In summary, this case places a burden on grandparents to seek intervention and involvement in a divorce or other family law case on a timely basis if they wish to seek relief from the court. The statutes allowing a dissolution of marriage in Missouri also permit grandparent visitation under certain standards based on intervention. Intervention requires a timely motion seeking to intervene by grandparents. The intervention statute in Missouri requires that even if a party has demonstrated a right to intervene, the party must file a timely motion. If the grandparent(s) do not file on a timely basis, the court has the discretion to deny the motion to intervene as being untimely. In the Corson case, the grandparent (Korn) filed a motion to intervene on the day the judgment was issued. The Court is only required to grant a motion to intervene filed by a grandparent if the grandparent shows that substantial justice requires intervention. The Corson court believed that given the parties (parents) agreement to settle their disputes and end the litigation, it would “greatly prejudice” the parties to continue their litigation and wait to conclude their divorce process.
The grandmother, Korn, filed a motion under Missouri Rule of Civil Procedure 52.12, to intervene as a matter of right because Section 452.402.1 RSMo provides grandparents with an unconditional right to intervene in the parents’ dissolution proceedings to seek visitation with grandchildren. Korn argued by filing her motion before the judgment was issued, she had the absolute right to intervene. When the court overruled her request to intervene, Korn appealed, arguing that the court erred because she had an absolute right to intervene, as a grandparent.
In the Eastern District’s analysis of this matter, they reviewed Rule 52.12(a) in determining that when a litigant/grandparent seeks to intervene as a right, they must demonstrate both, a right to intervene and that they have filed a timely application. Frost, 778 S.W.2d at 672. Generally, when the grandparent seeking to intervene can demonstrate they have a right and they have filed a timely application, the Court has little discretion in allowing the intervention.
According to 452.402 RSMo, a grandparent can be granted reasonable visitation rights if the grandparent has been unreasonably denied visitation for a period of time exceeding sixty days and the child’s parents have filed a dissolution of marriage proceeding. In this circumstance, the grandparents “shall have the right to intervene in any dissolution action solely on the issue of visitation rights.” In determining whether a grandparent’s application is timely, the court has to look at more than just the amount of time that has passed since the initial filing of the case. Instead, the court is required to look at the circumstances surrounding the request to intervene and determine whether there may be prejudice to the parents if the grandparent(s) are permitted to intervene. There is a line of cases, including from the Western District in Missouri, which indicates that in determining whether an application to intervene was timely, generally if the parties had entered into settlement/resolved their matter, a request to intervene was untimely. State ex rel. Strohm v. Board. of Zoning Adjustment of Kansas City, 869 S.W.2d 302, 304 (Mo. App. W.D. 1994).
In the instant case, Korn submitted her completed application to intervene as a grandparent after entry of the judgment. In such a circumstance, a grandparent or intervenor must demonstrate that substantial justice mandates intervention. Korn filed her application to intervene after the parties had five months of active litigation, but when the parties were able to resolve their case in a relatively short period, the Judgment was submitted to the judge. Importantly, in this case, the record also showed that Korn (the grandmother) was aware of the litigation. Korn was not able to provide any meaningful explanation for her delay in submitting her request to intervene.
In conclusion, the court determined that if Korn is denied visitation/contact with her grandchildren going forward, she may seek future visitation rights through a motion to modify.
What is the Learning Lesson in the Corson/Korn case?
If grandparents are concerned about making sure they have meaningful contact with their grandchildren, they need to exercise their rights in a timely fashion to seek intervention and contact.
If you are a grandparent and would like to discuss your opportunity to seek contact through visitation rights with your grandchildren, please call Pingel Family Law today at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your consultation.