Under Minnesota law, someone who is not a parent to a minor child, may pursue rights to custody of that child, provided that one can establish that the child is being neglected, harmed, or that there are ‘grave and weighty’ circumstances that exist with regard to the child’s care that make it necessary for the court to consider granting custody to someone other than the parent. Minnesota upholds a long-standing tradition of affording parents the right to raise their children. Wallin v. Wallin, 187 N.W.2d 627, 630 (1971). However, this right does not come without limits.
Under Minnesota Statute, §257C.03 a person (other than a parent) can petition a court as an ‘interested third party’ with respect to a minor child, and can ask the court to consider granting custody rights to the child, by proving one of three factors, namely:
- That the child’s parent has abandoned, neglected, or otherwise exhibited disregard for the child’s well-being to the extent the child will be harmed by living with the parent;
- Placement of the child with the individual takes priority over preserving the day-to-day parent-child relationship because of the presence of physical or emotional danger to the child, or both; or
- Other extraordinary circumstances.
The procedure for pursuing custody rights to a child by an ‘interested third party’ was clarified by the Minnesota Supreme Court decision, Lewis-Miller v. Ross, 710 N.W.2d 565, 568 (Minn. 2006). In that case, the Court was asked to apply the statute that grants custody rights to minor children, to parties other than the child’s parent. That statute is Minnesota Statute Section 257C.03, and it came into effect in 2002, to address the issue raised by several court decisions, as to whether parents’ rights to maintain custody of their children could be overcome by proving extraordinary circumstances which mandated placing the child in the care of someone else. In Re N.A.K., 649 N.W. 2d 166, 175 (Minn. 2002).
These ‘extraordinary circumstances’ while not clear in their meaning from a plain reading of Section 257C.03, have been considered by Minnesota courts as circumstances where a child has been neglected, abused, or has special needs. Ramirez v. Luna, (Minn. Ct. App. 2013). Should a person wish to seek custody rights to the child of another parent, that person must establish that the child has been abandoned or neglected to the extent the child is subject to present and ongoing harm, or that the child is exposed to present emotional or physical endangerment, or, that the child has special needs and has been subject to abuse or neglect. The burden of proof is considerable, given that Minnesota continues, by statute and common law, to pay deference to the rights of the parent, in the absence of ‘extraordinary circumstances’. Ramirez v. Luna (Minn. Ct. App. 2013).