Minnesota’s 2014 Child Custody and Parenting Time Amendments

Minnesota’s 2014 Child Custody and Parenting Time Amendments

On May 15, 2014, Governor Mark Dayton signed into law amendments to Minnesota’s child custody and parenting time laws, and these amendments became effective August 1, 2014. Chapter 197 of the 2014 Minnesota Session Laws displays greater acceptance of shared custody arrangements such as joint custody simply by providing neutrality toward joint physical custody. The Minnesota State Bar’s official publication, the Bench & Bar of Minnesota, in a recent article titled Custody and Parenting Time: Minnesota Amendments Codify Compromises predicted that these new amendments would likely lead courts that previously favored sole custody to be more willing to approve alternative arrangements.

While one factor to be considered when joint custody is sought is the ability of the parents to cooperate in child-rearing, presumably on the theory that joint custody is most workable when the parents cooperate in child-rearing, the amendments explicitly provide that disagreeing over whether custody is joint or sole is not considered an inability to cooperate in child-rearing. Thus, a parent cannot veto joint custody simply by arguing for sole custody.

Additional Factors to Be Considered

In addition to the ability of parents to cooperate on child-rearing, there are three other factors the court is required to consider in determining whether to award sole or joint custody:

  • Methods for resolving disputes regarding major decisions about the child, and the parties’ willingness to use those methods;
  • Whether one parent having sole authority over the child would be detrimental to the child;
  • Whether there has been domestic abuse, as defined in Minnesota Statute Section 518B.01, between the parents.

When the parties disagree on sole or joint custody, the court must make detailed factual findings on each of these factors and explain how those findings led to its decision as to whether joint or sole custody is in the best interests of the children.

Perhaps the most significant changes are the changes in modifications of parenting time, which may well promote continued litigation over child custody. Thus, Minnesota Statutes 2012, section 518.175, subdivision 5 (a), was amended to provide that considering a child’s best interest “includes a child’s changing developmental needs.” This amendment may promote additional litigation on child custody, as parents may argue that existing custody arrangements are no longer suitable because the child’s developmental needs have changed. `

That same statute, subdivision 1, was amended to provide that when issuing a parenting time order, the court “may reserve determination as to the future establishment or expansion of a parent’s parenting time,” and that the best interest standard applies to subsequent motions to establish or expand parenting time.

The statute was also amended to provide that a modification of a parent’s percentage of parenting time to between 45.1 to 54.9 percent parenting time “is not a restriction of the other parent’s parenting time.” Minnesota Statutes 2012, section 518.175, subdivision 5(b). This change is significant because the provision limits restrictions on parenting time, so this provision makes it easier for courts to modify parenting time when the parenting time is shared in a relatively equal way.

Do You Have Family Law Questions or Concerns?

If you are considering a custody agreement or modifications to an existing custody or parenting time order, consulting with an experienced family law practitioner may be useful. Jeffrey R. Arrigoni is available to help you with your family law matters in Minnesota.