The Minnesota Court of Appeals issues a decision this week regarding whether an individual under guardianship in Minnesota has a right to marry. The case, In the Matter of the Guardianship of Michael Timothy O’Brien, can be found here.
Michael O’Brian is a 27 year old man who is under guardianship because of a “serious and persistent mental disorder”, including diagnosis of bipolar disorder and severe ADHD. His parents are his guardians, and have been since 2004. Michael has been involved with a woman who is also in a special needs program since late 2010. He and the woman want to marry. Michael’s guardians believe he does not have the capacity to marry. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court agreed and found that Michael did not have the capacity to marry.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court decision. However, the Court of Appeals decision was not an outright victory for the ward, Michael O’Brien. Instead, the case was remanded back to the District Court to take further testimony and make more detailed findings about whether Mr. O’Brien, in fact, has the capacity to marry. The Court of Appeals held that in order for an individual subject to a guardianship to marry, he must have the capacity to understand the meaning, rights and obligations of marriage. The Court of Appeals further held that the burden of proof is on those opposing a ward’s competence to marry.
So what does all of this mean as a practical matter if someone under guardianship in Minnesota wants to get married?
- A person under guardianship in Minnesota retains the right to marry, if he has enough capacity to understand the meaning, rights and obligations of marriage. However, the guardian would have to consent, since marriage is a contract and the ward’s contractual rights are typically restricted when a guardianship is imposed.
- If the ward wants to marry and the guardian believes that the ward does not have the capacity to understand the meaning, rights and obligations of marriage, the guardian must prove that the ward lacks that capacity. A petition should be brought by the ward (who would have a right to an attorney in this situation) asserting his right to marry, or by the guardian opposing the request of the ward to marry.