Visitation rights of non-parents

An increasingly common issue in divorce and child visitation cases is the visitation rights of other adults who may have been involved in the child's life. Minnesota law sometimes allows those people to have their involvement legally protected and defined.

Grandparents and great-grandparents

Under state law, certain people can in certain cases seek visitation of a minor child. The first scenario is where one of the parents has died. In that case, both the parents and grandparents of the deceased spouse may be given visitation if that is in the child's best interests. The courts are also directed to look at whether allowing the grandparents' involvement would harm the parent-child relationship, and the degree of contact the grandparents have had with the child.

Another situation is where the child has actually lived with his or her grandparents. If he or she has lived with the grandparents for at least 12 months, and then leaves to live with his or her parents, the grandparents can seek the court to order visitation. Once again, the question is what is in the child's best interests, and whether allowing the grandparents to have visitation would interfere with the child-parent relationship.

Finally, there is the case of a child who is adopted. If a child is adopted by a stepparent, the child's biological grandparents may seek visitation also. This applies where the child's parent (who is also the grandparent's child) is either deceased or has lost parental rights. As with all other situations, the courts will grant visitation if it is in the child's best interests and there would be no interference with the child-stepchild relationship.

All Others

While the situations described above all involve grandparents or great-grandparents of the child, they are not the only non-parents who can request visitation. The requirements for this group of people are more stringent, however. For another person to ask for visitation, he or she must show four things:

  • The child lived with him or her for at least two years.
  • He or she and the child established a relationship that was like those of a parent or child.
  • It would be in the child's best interests.
  • Allowing visitation would not interfere with the relationship between the child and his or her biological parents.

It is worth noting also that this is the only situation in which courts are directed to consider the child's preferences as well, assuming the child is old enough to make such a judgment (no set age is given and is up to the court's discretion).

The courts in Minnesota have found that these requirements are clear, and so someone who does not meet them may not seek visitation with a child despite some involvement in that child's life. For example, in 2012 the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected a claim by an aunt for visitation based on being the sister of the child's deceased mother, and the fact that she had lived with the child's family for approximately five weeks and continued seeing him for around eight hours per month after that.

While some requirements are set in stone, many of them (particularly the question of the child's best interests) are not. These will vary widely based on the facts of each case, and so having an experienced attorney on your side can make all the difference.