Modifying Custody Agreements under Minnesota Law

Modifying Custody Agreements under Minnesota Law

Under Minnesota Statute Section 581.18(d), when a court has jurisdiction to determine custody orders, the court may not modify a custody order that specifies the child’s primary residence unless, since the prior order, there has been “a change in the circumstances of the child or the parties and that the modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child.” The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently explained the standards for determining both “a prior order” and “change in circumstances.” In Spanier v. Spanier, A13-2175 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 18, 2014), the Court of Appeals held that an order changing parenting time was not a prior order regarding custody, and that a parent who was enlisted in the military and received orders to deploy to another state was not a change in circumstances when the parent was living in another state because of military service at the time of the initial custody decision.

Specifics of the Case

At issue in Spanier was an original divorce decree that had granted the father, who lived in Minnesota, sole physical custody of the children. At that time, the mother was enlisted full-time in the Navy Reserve and resided in San Diego, California, with orders to deploy abroad. Subsequently, in 2010, after she learned she would be was stationed in Minnesota as of January 2011, she moved to modify the custody and parenting time. The parties resolved the motion by agreement, with the father maintaining sole physical custody and the mother having equal parenting time while she lived in Minnesota.

That agreement apparently worked well while both parents lived in Minnesota, but the mother then received orders to deploy to Virginia effective March 2014. She moved to modify the custody order so that her children would move with her to Virginia, and she lost both in the district court and on appeal.

First, the Minnesota Court of Appeals found that the order modifying parenting time so that the mother had equal parenting time was not a prior order regarding custody. Thus, an order that does not modify physical or legal custody is not a “prior order” under section 518.18(d). The result was that the prior order in this case was the original order, which granted the father sole custody, with the children residing in Minnesota while the mother was residing in California.

Second, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that there was no relevant change of circumstances to warrant a change in custody. The court held that the circumstances – that the mother was deployed by the Navy and living in another state – were the same circumstances that existed at the time of the prior custody order. The court noted that the mother was well aware that her military service could result in her being deployed to locations apart from her children, and that the move to Virginia resulted from her employment, and her employment had not changed since the original custody order. The court also noted that the mother could be deployed anywhere; in fact, she had been deployed to Jordan from August 2009 to March 2010

An Attorney Can Help You with Your Case

This case makes clear that an original custody order can have long-lasting consequences because a change in circumstances is a necessary element of a motion to modify custody. Thus, it is useful to consult with an experienced family law attorney in resolving custody disputes. Jeffrey R. Arrigoni, Attorney at Law can help you solve any of your family-law related problems.