Parentage acknowledgement permits grandparent visitation petition

In Christianson v. Henke, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the actions of the mother and father of a child in signing and filing a valid Recognition of Parentage with the appropriate state agency constituted a "proceeding for parentage" within the meaning of the Minnesota grandparent visitation statute, thereby providing the district court with jurisdiction to consider a petition for grandparent visitation.

Where a child is born to a mother who was not married to any man at the time the child was conceived or when the child was born, the paternity of a child can be established in Minnesota by means of a contested paternity action or by both parents voluntarily signing a Recognition of Parentage and filing it with the state registrar of vital statistics. The form provides a means for parents to acknowledge under oath that they are the biological parents of the child and wish to be recognized as the child's biological parents.

Background of the case

In Christianson, the parents executed a Recognition of Parentage on the day their son was born and subsequently filed it with the appropriate state agency. The child's paternal grandmother and her husband provided frequent childcare for the child and significant financial support for the child and the child's parents. After the parents separated, they continued to provide childcare, at the father's request, usually on afternoons and evenings on Mondays and Wednesdays, and overnight stays on Friday. When the child was three years old an incident occurred which prompted the parents to state that the paternal grandmother and her husband would never be allowed to see the child again.

The paternal grandmother and her husband subsequently filed a petition for grandparent visitation with the child. The paternal grandmother's husband subsequently withdrew as a party to the visitation proceedings. The district court granted visitation on Wednesday evenings and an overnight stay on every third Friday of the month, finding that the paternal grandmother has had significant contact with the child throughout his life and cared for him frequently, and that it was in the child's best interests to have some contact with her.

The mother filed a motion to vacate, challenging the district court's jurisdiction to award visitation, asserting that the grandparent visitation statute only authorizes the award of grandparent visitation following the commencement of legal proceedings, such as parentage actions. She argued that the filing of a Recognition of Parentage does not constitute a legal proceeding.

The district court denied the motion and the court of appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The mother subsequently filed an appeal in the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court's ruling

The Supreme Court held that Recognition of Parentage is a "proceeding for parentage" under the grandparent visitation statute and permits the filing of a grandparent visitation petition. The court stated that the legislature's purpose behind the statute was to give grandparents a legal right to maintain a relationship with their grandchild independent of the wishes of the child's parents. The court reviewed dictionary definitions of the word "proceeding" and held that an official document such as a Recognition of Parentage is included within these definitions, particularly where the legislature used forceful language regarding the significance of the document, by stating that it was "determinative for all other purposes related to the existence of the parent and child relationship," and has the "force and effect" of a judgment.

Grandparents seeking visitation rights are urged to consult with a competent attorney experienced in such matters to ensure the protection of their legal rights.