This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).







Stanley Kwapick, et al., petitioners,





DuWayne Gunderson,



Sharon Gunderson,




Filed November 12, 2002


Huspeni, Judge*



Pine County District Court

File No. FX00172


Mark W. Benjamin, Parker, Satrom, O’Neil & Benjamin, P.A., 123 South Ashland, Cambridge, MN 55008 (for appellants)


DuWayne Gunderson and Sharon Gunderson, 811 Central Drive West, #29, Braham, MN 55006-3033 (pro se respondents)



            Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            On appeal after remand, appellants argue that (a) the requirements for establishing grandparent visitation under Minn. Stat. § 257.022 (2000) should not apply when grandparent visitation is set by stipulation; (b) the district court erred in ruling that its order adopting the stipulation between grandparents and natural parents was void rather than voidable; and (c) the district court should not have vacated its order adopting the parties’ stipulation where there was no motion to vacate the order.  Because the district court correctly determined that the initial order granting grandparents visitation rights was void, we affirm. 


            In a visitation dispute between appellant grandparents Stanley and Barbara Kwapick and their daughter and son-in-law, respondent parents Sharon and DuWayne Gunderson, the parties stipulated to allowing grandparents unstructured visitation.  The district court adopted that stipulation.  In a subsequent enforcement dispute, parents argued that grandparents lacked standing to seek visitation under Minn. Stat. § 257.022 (2000).  Grandparents were awarded temporary visitation pending an evidentiary hearing.  Subsequently, the district court agreed with parents’ argument and denied any visitation to grandparents.  Grandparents appealed, and this court remanded for the district court to address whether the initial order adopting the parties’ stipulation was void or voidable.  Kwapick v. Gunderson, No. C2-01-306 (Minn. App. Sept. 11, 2001) (Kwapick I).  On remand, the district court ruled that the order adopting the stipulation was void.[1]  Grandparents again appealed.  Parents have not filed a brief and this court ordered the appeal to proceed under Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 142.03. 



            A ruling is void if it is rendered without subject-matter jurisdiction.  Matson v. Matson, 310 N.W.2d 502, 506 (Minn. 1981). 

Subject matter jurisdiction involves a court’s authority to decide a particular class of actions and its authority to decide the particular questions before it.


Herubin v. Finn, 603 N.W.2d 133, 137 (Minn. App. 1999) (citing Cochrane v. Tudor Oaks Condo. Project, 529 N.W.2d 429, 432 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. May 31, 1995)). 

In all proceedings for dissolution, custody, legal separation, annulment, or parentage, after the commencement of the proceeding, or at any time after completion of the proceedings, and continuing during the minority of the child, the court may, upon the request of the parent or grandparent of a party, grant reasonable visitation rights to the unmarried minor child, after dissolution of marriage, legal separation, annulment, or determination of parentage during minority if it finds that: (1) visitation rights would be in the best interests of the child; and (2) such visitation would not interfere with the parent-child relationship. 


Minn. Stat. § 257.022, subd. 2(a) (2000) (emphasis added).  Thus, for the district court to have subject-matter jurisdiction to grant a statutory petition for grandparent visitation, a proceeding for “dissolution, custody, legal separation, annulment, or parentage” must exist or have existed. 

            Here, the order adopting the parties’ stipulation states that grandparents “have initiated an action pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 257.022, subd. 2 for permanent grandparent visitation rights” and notes that an order for protection existed.  On remand, however, the district court, consistent with the record, stated, “[T]here are no family court proceedings, as listed in Minn. Stat. § 257.022, which are pending, or which have been commenced and completed.”  The district court then concluded:

[T]his Court did not have jurisdiction to issue an order granting [grandparent] visitation rights, regardless of a stipulation between the parties, at the time of the Court’s January 31, 2000, order.  Therefore, the Court’s January 31, 2000, order is void, and cannot be enforced by this court. 


            We agree that the January 31, 2000 order is void.  Subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be conferred on the court by stipulation.  Hemmesch v. Molitor, 328 N.W.2d 445, 447 (Minn. 1983).  Further, statutory grandparent visitation proceedings “may not be combined with a [domestic abuse] proceeding under chapter 518B.”  Minn. Stat. § 257.022, subd. 5 (2000).  Therefore, neither the parties’ agreement itself nor the existence of the order for protection mentioned in the stipulated order provided a jurisdictional basis for a valid statutory petition for grandparent visitation.  Because the prerequisites for a valid petition were absent, a statutory proceeding for grandparent visitation could not exist and the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to approve the parties’ stipulation under the statute. 

The jurisdictional inability of the district court to adopt the parties’ stipulation also causes us to reject the grandparents’ attempt to salvage the stipulated order by arguing that parties to a dissolution can by stipulation bind themselves to obligations that a court could not impose upon them by order.  See, e.g., In re Labelle’s Trust, 302 Minn. 98, 115-16, 223 N.W.2d 400, 411 (1974); Plath v. Plath, 393 N.W.2d 401, 403 (Minn. App. 1986).  While we agree that such stipulations in dissolution cases are valid, those stipulations are made in otherwise valid proceedings.[2]  There is no valid proceeding in the case before us.


            Grandparents argue that, under State v. Andrasko, 454 N.W.2d 648 (Minn. App. 1990), (a) the order adopting the stipulation was voidable rather than void; (b) the adopted stipulation was therefore enforceable until it was determined to be erroneously issued; and (c) the propriety of the order adopting the stipulation could not be determined without an evidentiary hearing regarding the best interests of the children.  We disagree, and find Andrasko to be distinguishable.  In that case, “there [was] no question as to the court’s jurisdiction in issuing the protective order.”  Id. at 650.  Here, it is the initial lack of jurisdiction that renders the order adopting the stipulation void. 


            Finally, grandparents argue that the district court functionally vacated the order adopting the parties’ stipulation and that this vacation was defective because there was no motion to vacate made under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02, nor was there an evidentiary hearing on the subject.  A motion to vacate the order adopting the stipulation was not necessary, however.  Kwapick I directed the district court to address whether that order was void.  The district court did so.  Also, it is undisputed that the prerequisites for invocation of the grandparent visitation statute did not exist.  Therefore, an evidentiary hearing would have served no purpose. 



*  Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10. 

[1] The district court’s order states that a prior order setting temporary grandparent visitation is void.  The accompanying memorandum, however, focuses on the order adopting the parties’ stipulation, stating that the stipulated order is void.  Because it was the stipulated order that Kwapick I directed the district court to address, we conclude that the district court’s reference to the order setting temporary visitation is a clerical error that may be ignored under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.01.

[2]  At common law, grandparents have visitation rights that are derivative through their child, the child’s parent.  In re Welfare of R.A.N., 435 N.W.2d 71, 72 (Minn. App. 1989).  Because of the derivative nature of common-law visitation rights, grandparents have “virtually no legal right” to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren against the parents’ wishes.  Olson v. Olson, 534 N.W.2d 547, 549 (Minn. 1995).  Thus, any exercise of the district court’s common-law powers would have only allowed it to adopt a stipulation granting visitation consistent with the parents’ wishes.  The legal dispute in this case is the result of disagreement between grandparents and parents regarding the grandparents’ access to the children.  Therefore, grandparents lack a (current) ability to exercise a common-law right to visitation.