Friday, March 2, 2012

Court: Aunts have no visitation rights with nieces - Minnesota

by Bob Collins

Sorry, aunts. You don't have any right to visit your nieces and nephews, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled this week in the case of a woman who wanted visitation rights with the daughter of her now-deceased twin sister.

The court ruled on the appeal of Kelli Rohmiller. After her sister and her boyfriend, Andrew Hart (the girl's father) split up, the girl and her mother lived with Rohmiller for five weeks. But when Ms. Rohmiller's sister died, Hart was awarded custody of the girl and cut Rohmiller off from visiting her niece.

A district court granted Rohmiller and her father unsupervised visitation with the girl, but the Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, saying Minnesota law does not grant a right to visitation to aunts.

In Minnesota, the law grants visitation rights to grandparents and great-grandparents as well as people with whom a child has lived for at least two years if the parent of a child is deceased. But Supreme Court Justice Lori Gildea said neither provision applies in this case.

"If the legislature wanted to include aunts as a class of individuals who could petition for visitation, it could have," she wrote.

Rohmiller said it would be "absurd" for the legislature to exclude step-parents, step-grandparents, step-siblings, cousins and "significant others" from visitation simply because they had not lived with a child for two years because "there is no magic relationship that is formed after two years."

The Supreme Court rejected the argument. "We have not found any reported Minnesota cases in which, over a fit custodial parent's objection, visitation was awarded to a non-parent who was not standing in loco parentis (ed. note: had parenting functions) with the child," Gildea said.

Since the father allowed the girl's grandfather to visit her, the Court said its decision this week would not prevent Rohmiller from being present when he does.

Here's the full opinion.


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