Modifications of Parenting Time
In Dawson v. Taylor, A14-0220 (Sept. 15, 2014), the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s order granting modification of parenting time without an evidentiary hearing. This case involved a child born in 2002 to unmarried parents. The father’s paternity was legally established in early 2005, and the court awarded them joint custody, with the mother having sole physical custody, and a visitation schedule that gave the father parenting time on ten days during a four-week period. In 2013, when the child was about eleven, the mother moved to modify the schedule, requesting a school-year schedule of school nights (Monday to Thursday) with her, with the father having the child at his home for dinner on Wednesdays and overnight every Friday and half of all Saturdays and Sundays and a vacation schedule of Wednesday. The father instead proposed a 5-2-2-5 schedule; the child would spend Mondays and Tuesdays with mother, Wednesdays and Thursdays with father and alternate weekends (Friday through Sunday).
The Court’s Ruling
The court held that the district court did not modify the parenting time without an evidentiary hearing. While Minnesota statute section 518.175, subd. 5 provides that a court may not restrict parenting time without finding, after a hearing, that parenting time is likely to harm the child or the parent has chronically and unreasonably failed to comply with court-ordered parenting time, the court found that reducing parent time is not the same as restricting parenting time.
The appeals court considered de novo whether the change in parenting time amounts to a restriction, considering the reasons for the change and the amount of reduction. First, neither party had asked for an evidentiary hearing or alleged one of the conditions that would justify restricting parenting time following a hearing. Instead, both parents asserted that each had a proposal that would promote consistency and predictability for the child, the mother by eliminating the father’s mid-week overnights and the father with an equalized schedule that would give the child “more regular, longer stretches of time with each parent but eliminated one of mother’s weekly overnights.” The schedule did reduce the mother’s parenting time from 65% to 50% by moving one overnight per week from the mother to the father. The court found that this reduction in the mother’s parenting time was not a restriction, and, therefore, upheld the district court’s decision to modify parenting time without an evidentiary hearing.
Minnesota Laws on Parenting Time
In 2014, the Minnesota statute on parent time modifications was amended by Chapter 197 of the 2014 Minnesota Session Laws. Under the new statutory language, a modification of parenting time that increases the other parent’s time so that it is between 45.1% and 54.9% of the time is not considered a restriction of parenting time for the parent whose time is reduced.
The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding evidence from the parties’ efforts at mediation. Under Minnesota Rule of Evidence 408, evidence from settlement negotiations is not admissible to prove a claim. The court noted that the district court had credited the mother’s testimony that the parties had difficulty communicating with each other, but found the district court dealt with that concern with a parenting schedule that required limited direct communication parties, requiring the parties to avoid disparaging the other parent in the child’s presence, and providing for an online communication tool. The court of appeals thus found that the statements and text messages excluded by the district court were “cumulative,” meaning that they did not add anything important.
In this case, the mother represented herself while the father was represented by counsel. A parent who is seeking a modification of custody is well advised to consult an attorney.