Court: Grandparents are not equal to parents

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 22, 2011 - 2:32 PM

The appellate judges said woman's expansive visitation privileges interfered with the role of her grandson's father.

Reasoning that grandparents do not have the same custodial rights as parents, the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday scaled back an "unprecedented" amount of visitation time granted the grandmother of a toddler whose mother was slain.

In a 20-page opinion, the court overturned Referee Kevin McGrath's order giving Roxanne Marie Givens the same visitation rights as a noncustodial parent for her grandson, now 2.

The case will return to Hennepin County District Court to draw up a new visitation schedule.

The boy was 4 months old when his mother, Brittany Givens-Copeland, 24, was strangled in 2009 by a former boyfriend who then set a fire and died of smoke inhalation.

Givens-Copeland came from one of Minnesota's most philanthropic black families. Her mother, Roxanne Givens, is a prominent businesswoman and entrepreneur.

The boy's father, Anthony Darst, was active in his life and saw him nearly every day before Givens-Copeland's death. Darst and Givens have a "deep and open acrimony," according to the appellate opinion.

Roxanne Givens petitioned for and was awarded sole custody of the boy without Darst's knowledge. Darst then won full custody of the boy in November 2009 and Givens was granted visitation twice a week and every other weekend.

Darst disputed the arrangement, arguing that her visitation schedule interfered with his relationship with his son.

In the opinion, Appeals Court Judge Kevin Ross wrote that although the grandparent of a child whose parent is dead may be granted visitation even against the surviving parent's wishes, Givens was being treated more like a parent than a grandparent in the custodial battle.

For example, Ross wrote, McGrath considered whether Givens could provide for the boy financially in ways that Darst couldn't. Using that as a deciding factor, the judge said, "inflated the understanding" of a grandparent's role in a custody dispute.

Affording the grandmother so many days with the boy logistically interferes with his relationship with his father, the judge wrote. For instance, it prevented Darst from taking the boy out of town for more than four days at a time. The "hopscotch calendar" is best for unmarried parents, Ross wrote, but not for grandparents, who have more limited rights.

To prevent further argument in the 2 1/2-year battle, the appeals court ordered that the visitation be changed to a schedule proposed by Darst that still allows Givens time with the boy.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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