Minnesotan Under Guardianship Has Right to Marry, Court Holds

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: guardianship, right to marry.

In the Matter of the Guardianship of: Michael Timothy O'Brien, Ward. MN guardianship, right to marry

Michael O'Brien was 27 years old. In 2004, his parents, Timothy and Judith O'Brien were appointed to be his guardians, since he suffered from a serious persistent mental disorder, including bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A later assessment questioned the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and suggested that he suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. He lived in a group home. Micheal continued to have a loving relationship with his parents, but sometimes questioned their decisions.

In 2010, he began dating a woman in her early 20's who had a young child. She was a client in a special-needs program. In 2012, he made a motion in the Hennepin County District Court for a declaratory judgment that he had the right to marry her. The parents objected, arguing that he lacked the requisite capacity. After a hearing, the district court ruled in favor of the parents and denied Michael the right to marry. He then took his case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The appeals court first noted that marriage is a fundamental civil right, but is subject to reasonable regulation by the state. But the court held that the burden of proof is on the one opposing the ward's competence to marry. In other words, there is a presumption in favor of the right to marry. Since the lower court had not applied this presumption, it reversed the judgment and remanded the case.

No. A13-1348 (Minn. Ct. App. May 27, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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