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Published August 26, 2013, 12:56 PM

North Dakota grandparents sue to visit their grandchildren

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota couple is protesting a ruling giving their parents the right to spend time with their grandchildren.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota couple is protesting a ruling giving their parents the right to spend time with their grandchildren.

Diane Bjerke and her husband, Robert, sued their son, Cory, and the children's mother, Naomi Sterf, after a previous mediation attempt to work out visitation had been unsuccessful.

Attorneys told The Forum newspaper that the case is rare because the children's parents are alive, well and together.

"I work with grandparents every day . I've never had a case like this," said Ron Fatoullah, who has practiced elder law in New York state for the past 37 years. "It's unheard of."

Judge Lawrence Jahnke issued an order to Cory Bjerke and Sterf on June 20 to allow their eldest daughter to visit her grandparents "as she wishes, to include overnight visits."

The order also requires that the grandparents be allowed to spend at least four hours with the 16-year-old girl and the two younger children on the children's and the grandparents' birthdays, as well as on Grandparents' Day, Easter Sunday, five days over the summer, three days during Christmas and one day over Thanksgiving.

Cory Bjerke and Sterf are appealing specifics in the order. A hearing is scheduled Sept. 10 in Grand Forks.

Fargo-based family lawyer Michael Gjesdahl hasn't heard of this kind of case, in spite of handling two to five grandparent visitation cases per year over the course of his 30-year practice.

Gjesdahl said another unusual aspect is that Jahnke's order seems to give the 16-year-old girl — the oldest of 3 grandkids — authority to decide when her visits will occur. The girl lived for the grandparents for a year and a half while Cory Bjerke served time for a drug conviction.

"It's unusual to let a kid drive the bus," he said.

Cory Bjerke and Sterf said in a statement that parents should be able to determine "when and with whom their children associate with."

Diane and Robert Bjerke did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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