Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in North Dakota?

Learn about grandparents’ rights to court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren.

Understanding your rights can help you maintain a relationship with your grandchild after a life-altering event, like divorce or the death of one parent. This article explains when and how you can ask for grandparent visitation in North Dakota. If you have questions after reading this article, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Do I Have a Legal Right to Spend Time With My Grandchild?

Yes, in North Dakota, grandparents and great-grandparents have a legal right to request court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren. Grandparents (and great-grandparents) may exercise this right at any time, including during or after the child's parents divorce or separation, and/or after one parent's death.

What do I Need to Prove in Court?

Parents have a "fundamental" (constitutionally protected) right to decide who their children spend time with. However, the court will award a grandparent (or great-grandparent) visitation despite a parent's objection if the proposed visits:

  • serve the child's best interests, considering the child's health, safety, and general welfare, and
  • don't interfere with the parent-child relationship.

The grandparent (or great-grandparent) seeking court-ordered visits has the "burden of proof" (the duty to provide sufficient evidence) to establish each of the above factors based on:

  • the child's emotional ties with the parents and grandparents
  • the parents' ability to properly care for the child
  • the child's developmental needs
  • the mental and physical health of everyone involved, including the parents, grandparents, and anyone else who may have requested custody or visitation
  • the child's preferences (if interviewed by the judge)
  • any history of domestic violence or abuse, and
  • any other evidence related to the child's wellbeing.

An existing grandparent-grandchild relationship is not required to ask for court-ordered visits, but if you already spend quality time with your grandchild, evidence of your close relationship can help show that the proposed schedule would serve the child's best interests.

Do I Still Have Rights If My Grandchild's Parents Were Never Married?

In North Dakota, the child's parents' marital status does not impact grandparents' rights to visitation.

Will I Lose My Visitation Rights If My Grandchild Is Adopted by Another Family?

If one parent dies, and a stepparent adopts your grandchild after the surviving parent remarries, you can continue exercising your visitation rights after the adoption. But if someone else adopts your grandchild, your biological grandparent rights will terminate and be transferred to the new, adoptive grandparents.

How can I get Custody of My Grandchild?

Judges consider any evidence relevant to a child's health, safety, and welfare when deciding on a custody arrangement that serves the child's best interests. If the court decides the child's parents are unfit or cannot meet the child's needs, it will transfer custody to the most suitable nearby relative, if any. If multiple family members request custody, and they are equally able to meet this child's needs, the judge will usually try to minimize disruption in the child's life by selecting the relative that lives closest to the child.

How do I Start the Process?

You will need to file a "petition," (legal papers) in the district court for the county where the child lives. If you already have a grandparent visitation order, but you want more time or the child's parent is interfering with your visits, you can ask the court to modify (change) or enforce the order.

You will need to notify everyone involved by sending a copy of your petition for custody to the child's parents and anyone else who may have requested custody or visitation. After you file your petition, the court may require you, the parent(s), and anyone else seeking custody or visitation to try to work out an agreement in mediation before scheduling a hearing. If you can't reach an agreement, the issue will go to a full trial or custody hearing, where a judge will decide.

If you have questions, you should speak to a local, experienced family law attorney, who can help you navigate this process.

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