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Grandparent visitation case appealed to ND Supreme Court

GRAND FORKS — A couple here who were sued by the man’s parents for visitation with the grandchildren is appealing the case to the state Supreme Court.

That’s after a judge confirmed his ruling that Cory Bjerke and his longtime partner, Naomi Sterf, must allow their 16-year-old to visit her grandparents any time she wishes, and must allow the couple’s other two younger children to see Bjerke’s parents.

State law says grandparents may be given visitation, as long as it’s in the children’s best interests and doesn’t interfere with the parent-child relationship.

Bjerke and Sterf argue that the 16-year-old’s unfettered visitation rights laid out in the order by Grand Forks County District Court Judge Lawrence Jahnke do interfere with their parent-child relationship.

They argue that by giving their teenage daughter free rein to leave for her grandparents’ home anytime she likes, the teen has an opportunity to get out of discipline, chores or other sources of disagreement with her parents, thereby undermining their parental authority.

The elder Bjerkes asked the court to hold their son and his partner in contempt, saying they hadn’t been following Jahnke’s instructions that guaranteed the grandparents would spend many holidays with the three children.

The parents admitted at a Sept. 10 hearing that they hadn’t followed the judge’s order but reiterated their belief that it interfered with their parenting rights.

That hearing drew about 20 people who demonstrated in front of the Grand Forks courthouse in protest of the judge’s order.

Jahnke ruled Sept. 25 that he would defer holding Bjerke and Sterf in contempt for failing to follow his order. However, he said in his ruling that Bjerke and Sterf had not shown that the visitation the 16-year-old was granted had actually created any problems with their parenting.

The judge wrote that he hoped the bad feeling between the two sets of adults could be set aside, especially as holidays approached.

“It’s time for the Respondents and Petitioners, for the sake of their children and grandchildren, to once again attempt to re-establish a civil dialogue with one another. They can’t expect the court to repair their fractured relationship,” Jahnke wrote. “Only they themselves can do it.”

Bjerke and Sterf declined to comment for this story, as did the elder Bjerkes.

No date has been set for the case to be heard by the state Supreme Court.