Update (June 22, 2011): The Minnesota Supreme Court has now granted a petition for review of the Rohmiller case discussed below. The grant of the petition interestingly coincides with another case that came down this week on the issue of extended family visitation rights.
Original Post (April 20, 2011):
by Corwin Kruse
When B.H. was ten month old, her father, Andrew Hart, was removed from the home and pleaded guilty to malicious punishment of a child. The two had no contact for 18 months. When she was two, B.H.’s mother, Katie, was killed in a car accident and she lived with her great-aunt in Iowa until her father was granted custody three years later and moved her to the Twin Cities. Although it was undisputed that B.H. was now thriving with her father, he refused to allow her to have contact with her mother’s identical twin sister, Kelli Rohmiller, who also lived in the Twin Cities. Ms. Rohmiller and B.H.’s maternal grandfather, Clayton Rohmiller, sought and were granted visitation rights by the district court. The court’s order further provided that Kelli could exercise visitation without the presence of Clayton.
On appeal, the court held that the amount of visitation granted to Clayton – which was consistent with the recommendation of the guardian ad litem – was not an abuse of discretion, even though it was more than B.H. saw her grandfather prior to her mother’s death. The court of appeals also ruled however, that the district court did err by granting visitation to Kelli, even though she and B.H. had an established relationship.
Minnesota law sets forth to whom visitation may be granted. Unfortunately for Kelli, the sibling of a deceased parent isn’t among them (unless the child has lived with that sibling for at least two years). The court of appeals noted that the district court had found that such visitation would be in B.H.’s best interests, but also noted that it was beyond the court of appeal’s authority to add to the statute and confer rights not granted by the legislature.
Of special interest is the concurrence by Judge Lansing. She agreed with the decision, but explicitly invited the legislature to reconsider the statute and allow limited discretion to the court to extend visitation in unusual cases like that of B.H. Only time will tell whether the legislature will accept her invitation.