The Minnesota Court of Appeals settled — at least for now — a case that’s the very definition of a child caught in the middle.
The Court of Appeals today overturned a visitation schedule for a grandmother whose daughter was murdered. In so doing, the court reaffirmed the right of parents to decide the extent to which a child may visit grandparents. It also reaffirmed that in matters of child custody, parents and grandparents are not the same.
The case involves the 2009 murder of Brittany Givens-Copeland, who was killed in Burnsville by her ex-boyfriend. Her son, Christian, was just four months old.
Givens-Copeland’s mother, noted Twin Cities philanthropist Roxanne Givens filed for custody of the child without notifying the child’s father, Anthony Michael Darst. A district court granted Givens’ request until Darst, having proved paternity, sued — and eventually won — custody.
For nine months, the Appeals Court said, Given allowed the father “only tightly restricted opportunities to see the child, primarily under Givens’ supervision in her home. Once the district court granted Darst custody of his son, he did not allow Givens’ any visitation.
Givens then petitioned for grandparent visitation under Minnesota law. While Darst agreed to allowing one weekend of visitation from Saturday morning to Sunday evening once a month, the district court awarded visition every Tuesday afternoon and every Saturday for the first 90 days, then twice a week with a Saturday sleep-over for the next 90 days, and finally every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon and every other weekend.
That, the Court of Appeals ruled today, was too much. It agreed that the order “essentially establishes a parenting-time schedule rather than grandparent visitation and that it interferes with his relationship with the son. It said under the arrangement, the father couldn’t take any trips with his son longer than four days.
“This sort of hopscotch calendar may sometimes be the best solution to accommodate equal and competing parental rights between unmarried or divorced parents who have demonstrated a capacity to engage civilly,” the Court said. “But it cannot be imposed to satisfy the limited rights of grandparents without interfering with the parent-child relationship.”
In sending the case back to the district court, however, the Court of Appeals did not give it much choice how it should settle the matter. “We predict on this record that remanding for additional extensive argument and a new hearing and further analysis would do little more than to prolong and intensify this now two-and-a-half-year acrimonious contest over time with (the child),” the Court said, in telling the district court to adopt the father’s suggestion of one weekend a month visitation and holidays as negotiated.
It also scolded the warring factions.
“The limits of the law and the specific terms of judicially ordered visitation are no substitute for flexibility and cooperative arrangements in the child’s best interests,” it said.