Third Party Custody & the Natural Parent Presumption

Parenting Plan

Under the United States Constitution, one has fundamental rights as a parent to raise their children as they see fit. Courts have included in these parental rights the right to exclude others from having contact with their child. Basically a parent can tell a grandparent that the grandparent can have no contact with their grandchild. See Troxel v. Granville.

In Minnesota, there is a statute that discusses third party custody. In that statute it says that the court must not give preference to a party over a de facto custodian or interested third party solely because the party is a parent of a child.(Minn. Stat. 257C.04 subd.1).

So how do you reconcile one’s Constitutional rights with a Minnesota Statute that says a parent does not have a presumption in their favor when it comes to custody?

See In re N.A.K., 649 N.W. 2d 166 (Minn. 2002). N.A.K.’s father appealed the district court’s decision to grant custody to the child’s maternal grandparents as de facto custodians. The father believed that the court did not apply the presumption of custody because of chapter 257C. In reconciling the statute with the Constitutional rights of parents, the appellate court opined that “the legislature likely intended to change then-existing law with respect to de facto custodians when it enacted chapter 257C.” The appellate court needed to examine the constitutional implications of the statute; the court believed that case law regarding this presumption needed to be examined alongside case law addressing the Constitutional rights of parents. However, the father’s brief to the Court did not adequately discuss the Constitutional issues and the court was prevented from this type of analysis.

The appellate court affirmed the district court’s ruling concluding that the district court implicitly applied the presumption by applying chapter 257C.

 

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