Custody and parenting time issues commonly arise in the context of either a divorce action or, in the case of unmarried parents, a separate proceeding to establish custody and parenting time. In either scenario, if a court determines (or the parties agree) that one parent will be awarded sole physical custody of a child, issues may arise with respect to how much parenting time the other parent will receive and whether or not any restrictions will be placed on that parenting time.
General Rules of Parenting Time
Best Interests of the Child
The general rule under Minnesota law is that the court must grant the amount of parenting time that will enable a child and parent “to maintain a child to parent relationship that will be in the best interests of the child.” Minn. Stat. 518.175. The “best interest factors” used in child custody determinations are typically a good place to start this analysis (see this article on best interests of the child).
Calculating Parenting Time
In the absence of evidence to the contrary, there is a rebuttable presumption that a parent is entitled to receive at least 25% of the parenting time for the child. In the process of negotiating a parenting time schedule, disputes sometimes arise regarding how to calculate parenting time for purposes of meeting this statutory minimum threshold. The default calculation method set forth in the statute is to simply count the number of overnights the child spends with each parent and allocate the respective percentages. However, this calculation method is not mandatory in situations where the child spends a significant amount of time with the other parent, but does not stay overnight. For example, if one parent routinely has a child for the majority of the day on a Saturday or Sunday and is responsible for the child’s well-being until immediately prior to bedtime, then a strong argument exists that the overnight calculation method is not an accurate reflection of actual parenting time. This is significant because alternative calculation methods can have important ramifications not only for parenting time orders and custodial designations, but also for purposes of calculating the appropriate parenting time adjustment in a child support context.
Additional Parenting Time
Further, Minnesota law allows a court to award additional parenting time to a parent to provide child care while the other parent is working if the proposed arrangement is reasonable and in the best interests of the child. In this event, a court would also consider factors such as the following: whether the parents have the ability to cooperate; which methods are in place for resolving disputes regarding the care of the child (and the parents’ willingness to use those methods); and whether domestic abuse has occurred between the parties. Assuming that the court is satisfied that this type of child care arrangement is in the best interests of the child, an award of additional parenting time under this provision will not only allow a child to spend additional time with a parent, but it will also likely have the additional benefit of saving both parties money in child care costs.
Potential Restrictions on Parenting Time
Despite the foregoing, parents should remain mindful that the aforementioned 25% parenting time threshold is not a guarantee of a minimum amount of parenting time. Indeed, if a court finds that time with a parent is likely to endanger the child’s physical or emotional health, or to impair the child’s emotional development, the court can place restrictions on parenting time with that parent as the circumstances warrant. For example, the court is entitled to place restrictions on parenting time as to time, place, duration and supervision, and the court can also deny parenting time entirely in extreme cases. Moreover, if a domestic abuse Order For Protection is in effect between the parties, and a parent requests that the other parent be restricted to supervised visits, the law requires the court to take the Order For Protection into consideration when making a parenting time decision.
When a parent is involved in a contested parenting time or custody issue, it is important to have an advocate who is experienced in this area of the law and who knows how to present as strong of an argument as possible in order to maximize a parent’s potential for spending time with his or her child. Call (612) 466-0010 to speak with an experienced family law attorney.