Grandmother and grandchild playing checkers

What to Know About Native American Grandparents’ Rights

The relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild is special. Especially for Native American grandparents who can share their culture and love with their grandchildren, many times, this relationship is crucial. However, it can be challenging when parents divorce and the time grandparents spend with their grandchildren becomes less.

Here are the things to know about Native American grandparents’ rights.


Under federal law, grandparents’ rights are not constitutionally protected. Grandparents seeking visitation rights should look at the state legislature to see what rights are protected. In North Dakota, grandparents are granted “reasonable visitation rights.” These are court-ordered rights that are found to be in the best interest of the child and do not interfere with a parent-child relationship. To pursue these rights, you must file a petition to the state court, who can also enforce and modify visitation orders.

It’s important to note that if the grandchild lives on a reservation or they are an enrolled member of a federally recognized Indian tribe that the Tribal Court may have jurisdiction. There are many Tribes that recognize grandparents' rights through customary and traditional laws, as opposed to Tribal law and order codes.

In the circumstances involving adoptions or termination of parental rights, grandparent rights are much more protected through the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). In these instances, grandparent rights are placed at a higher priority for consideration of placement and/or termination.


Custody is more complex than visitation because there are typically less rigid state statutes for custody than how state courts decide visitation rights. Generally, states rule in favor of the relationship between a parent and their child. However, when parents are unable or unwilling to care for their children, in North Dakota, grandparents can receive legal custody or guardianship of their grandchildren. The state considers different options for grandparents if parents cannot, including legal custody, guardianship, and informal care. These options can help grandparents find the best option for their grandchildren, enroll them in schools, and give consent for medical treatment.

Work with a Family Law Attorney

Custody and visitation are complex proceedings that can be challenging to navigate. When it comes to Native American grandchildren and grandparents, it can be even more difficult, whether in state court or tribal court. At Circling Eagle Law, we have the expertise and compassion for families dealing with these issues and other matters of family law.

If you are a Native American grandparent seeking visitation or custody rights of your grandchildren, contact us at (701) 401-7404 for a free 15-minute consultation.


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