How Does A Grandparent Obtain Custody?

In the case of In re Custody of A.L.R., a third-party child custody case, the Court of Appeals of Minnesota reversed an award of custody to the child's paternal grandparents due to insufficient proof of extraordinary circumstances, as required under a Minnesota statute.

Background and procedural history

The child was born in 2009 to unmarried teenage parents. The mother, who is an undocumented immigrant, was 17 at the time and the father was 15. The mother moved in with the father and the child's paternal grandparents during the pregnancy. She continued live there until 2011, when she moved out following an altercation with the grandmother.

The grandparents subsequently filed proceedings for custody. The district court determined that the grandparents qualified as interested third parties and granted them sole physical and sole legal custody of the child. The mother appealed the decision.

The ruling by the Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals stated that at least one of three factors must be established to prove that an individual qualifies as an interested third party in child custody proceedings:

  1. Abandonment or neglect by a parent, or disregard for the child's well-being which potentially causes harm.
  2. Emotional or physical endangerment of the child by a parent.
  3. Other extraordinary circumstances.

The Court of Appeals held that proof was lacking regarding the first two factors. Testimony established that the mother never abused or neglected the child and no evidence was presented to show that the child suffered harm from being exposed to the mother's family members.

With regard to the third factor, the appeals court held that there was insufficient proof of extraordinary circumstances under Minnesota law, and, without such proof, the grandparents could not be considered interested third parties.

Even though both parents were minors when the child was born, both were still attending high school, the father was still a minor, and the father was still living with the grandparents, the appeals court held that the circumstances of the parents' young ages and school status were irrelevant and did not prove that this impaired the mother's ability to care for her child.

The fact that the child lived with the grandparents since birth, except for a short period of time when the child and the mother lived with the mother's relatives, and that the grandmother provided significant care to the child was not proof of an extraordinary circumstance, said the appeals court. The mother also had provided significant care while she lived with the grandparents.

The mother's undocumented-immigrant status was also not an extraordinary circumstance under the statute. There was no evidence that the mother's immigration status negatively impacted her ability as a parent or affected the child's well-being.

The fact that the mother was residing in another state likewise could not be considered an extraordinary circumstance.

The Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the district court to transition custody of the child from the grandparents back to the mother and to make a ruling on visitation rights

Contact an attorney

When you are confronted with a divorce or any other family law issues, you should contact an attorney experienced in that area so that you can be guided toward the best result and that your rights are protected.