A loving aunt can strengthen a child's sense of family and interpersonal bonding skills. But in the eyes of the law, aunts fall into the category of extended family. This means that aunts cannot generally sue or take parents to court for the right to visit nieces or nephews. However, certain circumstances may arise in which specific provisions for extended family -- which can vary from state to state -- may play into an aunt's favour.
Aunts typically do not possess the legal right to visit nieces or nephews. The right to determine who sees the children belongs to the parents or guardians. However, an aunt who cares for and essentially "possesses" a niece or nephew for an extended period of time may be able to seek conservatorship, depending on her state's regulations. Typically, the aunt must be able to show that her relationship with the child serves the child's best interests.
Circumstances must be extreme for the aunt to have a chance at gaining legal visitation rights to see a niece or nephew. If the child's nuclear family is still intact (at least one parent is still alive and actively parenting), then it is extremely hard, if not impossible, to make a case for legal visitation rights. However, if an aunt has been the primary caretaker for a niece or nephew in her home, and can prove she has a "substantial" relationship with the child, the aunt has a chance at convincing a court her relationship with the child is too beneficial to terminate. Further, if the aunt can show beyond a reasonable doubt that the child's parents are unfit, her chances of gaining visitation increase.
The title of "aunt" bears no immediate legal weight in the area of child visitation. Further, "godparent" is a purely religious title that offers no legal advantage whatsoever. Extended family members, such as aunts, uncles and grandparents, often feel they are entitled to see a niece, nephew or grandchild, but this is not always the case. Laws for third-party visitation vary from state to state (in some states, they barely exist).
Family Law Quarterly, a family law journal, keeps an ongoing record of third-party visitation laws in the United States. According to their records, the following states have laws that pertain to visitation rights for "any interested party," the category aunts would fall under: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.