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Family Law | Maternal Aunt Could not Receive Child Visitation Rights to Her Niece

Under certain circumstances, a grandparent may be allowed visitation with grandchildren. Such circumstances may include when one parent is deceased or when family court proceedings, such as a divorce, are already underway.

However, what about more extended family members, such as a maternal aunt? The Minnesota Supreme Court discussed this issue in the case of Rohmiller v. Hart.

An aunt seeks visitation with her niece

The child’s maternal aunt petitioned the court for visitations rights with her niece. The aunt was the identical twin sister of the child’s mother, who had passed away. The child’s mother and the child had lived with the aunt for approximately five weeks, during a time after the father had pled guilty to malicious punishment of a child. After the mother’s death, the father received custody of the child and moved to Minnesota, cutting off ties with the aunt.

After a hearing, the district court granted unsupervised visitation to the aunt as well as the child’s grandfather. However, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed this decision, saying that visitation rights should not be extended to the aunt. The aunt appealed this result.

Were aunts eligible for visitation rights?

The Minnesota Supreme Court explained that Minnesota law does allow the court to award visitation rights to individuals who meet specific criteria, including if one of the parents of the child is deceased or if the child resided with that individual for more than two years.

However, none of the provisions of the applicable statute would grant visitation to the aunt in this case. She was neither the parent nor grandparent of the child as mentioned in the law. In addition, the aunt did not show that she had established an emotional bond with the child, such that a parent-child relationship had been formed. Finally, the child had not resided with the aunt for two years.

The statute specifically named the classes of individuals who were allowed to petition for visitation, and maternal aunts were not named. If the legislature had wanted to include aunts in the law, it could have, but aunts were not mentioned. The language of the statute was not ambiguous.

Therefore, the decision of the court of appeals in this family law matter would be upheld, and the aunt was not granted visitation rights.

Knowledge of the visitation laws

Whether you are a parent opposing a third-party visitation, or a relative such as a grandparent attempting to see a child, you should consult with an attorney before taking any action. Seek an experienced family law attorney who is well versed in the law of visitation and child custody issues to represent your interests.