from the Juvenile Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast
Central Judicial District, the Honorable John A. Thelen,
A. Gereszek, East Grand Forks, MN, for respondents and
a/k/a B.Y and A.Y. Jessica J. Ahrendt, Grand Forks Public
Defender's Office, Grand Forks, ND, for respondent and
1] D.L., mother of G.L., appeals from the juvenile
court's order and judgment to continue guardianship of
G.L. The mother argues the juvenile court erred in its
determination of exceptional circumstances for continuing the
guardianship. We reverse the order and judgment and remand.
2] On July 27, 2015 the State filed a petition alleging G.L.
(born in 2009) and her sister E.L. (born in 2001) were
deprived. The parents, D.L. and T.S. (father), stipulated to
a guardianship, placing both girls in the care of the eldest
daughter, B.Y. The juvenile court entered an order appointing
the eldest daughter as guardian on October 8, 2015, and found
both children deprived under N.D.C.C. § 27-20-02(8)(a).
The guardianship was to remain in place until the children
3] On December 7, 2016 the mother wrote a letter to the
juvenile court asking for a review of the guardianship. Two
weeks later the mother wrote another letter stating the
guardianship continued to be in G.L.'s best interests.
Shortly after, the mother again changed her mind and asked
for a review hearing. The juvenile court treated the
communications as a motion to terminate the guardianship and
on July 26-27 and August 24, 2017 held a hearing. At the
start of the hearing the mother abandoned her request to
review her middle daughter's guardianship.
4] The juvenile court found the mother demonstrated a change
in circumstances by stabilizing her living situation,
obtaining full-time employment, effectively dealing with
addiction, and improving her mental and emotional health. The
juvenile court found the impediments creating the deprivation
had been removed. The juvenile court then shifted the burden
of proof to the guardian to establish by preponderance of the
evidence that continuation of the guardianship remains in the
best interest of the child.
5] The juvenile court made findings on the best interest
factors in N.D.C.C. § 14-09-06.2(1). The juvenile court
continued the guardianship, ordered the guardian's
husband added as co-guardian, and gave the guardian authority
to establish a visitation schedule with input from G.L.'s
therapist and guardian ad litem. The mother appeals the order
6] The mother argues the juvenile court failed to find
exceptional circumstances and erred in analyzing whether
continuing the guardianship was in the best interests of the
child. We agree.
7] "Parents have a fundamental, natural right to their
children which is of constitutional dimension. The right is
paramount. A parent's paramount and constitutional right
to the custody and companionship of their children is
superior to that of any other person." Hoff v.
Berg, 1999 ND 115, ¶ 10, 595 N.W.2d 285 (citations
omitted). Because of these parental rights, guardianship
termination cases require the following:
"When there is a custody dispute between a natural
parent and a third party the test is whether or not there are
exceptional circumstances which require that in the best
interest of the child, the child be placed in the custody of
the third party rather than with the biological parent. The
court cannot award custody to a third party, rather than the
natural parent, under a 'best interest of the child'
test unless it first determines that 'exceptional
circumstances' exist to trigger the best-interest
analysis. Absent exceptional ...