Renville County District Court File No. 65-FA-11-112
SYLLABUS 1. Because the common law presumption in favor of parental custody is codified in the third-party custody statute, Minn. Stat. § 257C.01-.08 (2012), a district court in third-party custody proceedings is not required to separately address that common law parental presumption. 2. A parent's undocumented-immigrant status is not an extraordinary circumstance under Minn. Stat. § 257C.03, subd. 7(a)(1)(iii).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kirk, Judge
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Kirk, Judge.
In this third-party custody dispute, appellant-mother argues that the district court:
(1) erred by determining that respondent-grandparents established by clear and convincing evidence that they are interested third parties under Minn. Stat. § 257C.03, subd. 7(a), because extraordinary circumstances exist; (2) abused its discretion by determining that granting grandparents' third-party custody petition is in the child's best interests; and (3) erred by failing to consider the factors set forth in Minn. Stat. § 257C.03, subd. 7(b), in determining whether grandparents are interested third parties. Because we conclude that the district court erred by determining that grandparents established by clear and convincing evidence that they are interested third parties, we reverse and remand.
Appellant Jessica Luna (mother) and Jose Ramirez, Jr. (father), are the parents of A.L.R. (the child), who was born in April 2009. Mother was 17 years old when the child was born and father was 15 years old; they have never been married. Mother began living with father and his parents, respondents Jose Ramirez, Sr. (grandfather), and Maria DeJesus Ramirez (grandmother), while she was pregnant with the child. Mother continued to live with grandmother and grandfather (collectively, grandparents) with the child, father, and grandparents' other children until September 2011. During that time, the family lived primarily in Minnesota, except for a brief period of time at the end of mother's pregnancy when they lived in Texas; the child was born in Texas and the family returned to Minnesota shortly afterward. Mother is an undocumented immigrant, father and grandmother are United States citizens, and grandfather is a legal resident.
In September 2011, an altercation occurred between mother and grandmother. As a result of that incident, mother left grandparents' home with the child, went to stay with her maternal grandmother, and petitioned for an ex parte order for protection (OFP) against grandmother. Grandmother also petitioned for an ex parte OFP against mother, and the district court granted both ex parte petitions. At the same time, grandparents executed, but did not file, a petition for sole legal and sole physical custody of the child.
In October, the district court held an OFP hearing regarding mother's ex parte OFP against grandmother. Following the hearing, the district court dismissed the OFP. On the same day, grandparents filed the previously executed petition for custody of the child. Four days later, grandparents filed an emergency ex parte motion for immediate temporary legal and physical custody of the child. The district court found that there was a clear and present danger that mother may leave the court's jurisdiction with the child and granted grandparents temporary sole legal and sole physical custody of the child. The child was removed from mother's care and placed in grandparents' care. After a hearing, the district court issued a temporary order incorporating the terms of the ex parte order.
Following a trial on the custody petition, the district court determined that grandparents had established by clear and convincing evidence that they are interested third parties in the custody determination of the child under Minn. Stat. § 257C.03. The district court further found that it is in the child's best interests that grandparents receive sole physical and sole legal custody of the child and, as a result, the district court granted sole physical and sole legal custody of the child to grandparents. Finally, the district court adjudicated father to be the father of the child. Mother moved for amended findings or a new trial; the district court denied the motion. This appeal follows.
Did the district court err by determining that grandparents established by clear and convincing evidence that they are interested third parties under Minn. Stat. § 257C.03, subd. 7(a), because extraordinary circumstances exist?
This court's review of a district court's third-party custody determination is limited to whether the court abused its discretion. Lewis-Miller v. Ross, 710 N.W.2d 565, 568 (Minn. 2006). A district court abuses "its discretion by making findings unsupported by the evidence or by improperly applying the law." Pikula v. Pikula, 374 N.W.2d 705, 710 (Minn. 1985). This court will not set aside a district court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. Vangsness v. Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 472 (Minn. App. 2000). But ...