When a Minnesota court makes a decision about child custody, whether the issue arises as part of a divorce case or in a separate proceeding, it must determine that its decision is in the “best interest of the child.” Minnesota does not define this term, but it does provide a list of factors that commonly affect a child’s “best interests.” In addition to decisions about custody rights, the court must determine how much “parenting time” each parent should have. It can grant additional parenting time to one parent, allowing them to care for the child while the other parent is at work. The Minnesota Supreme Court reviewed the requirements of this provision in a 2018 decision. Two dissenting justices reviewed the Minnesota Legislature’s reasons for enacting the provision .
State law does not require parents to receive equal parenting time. Section 518.175, subdivision 1(g) of the Minnesota Statutes establishes a rebuttable presumption that each parent should receive a minimum of twenty-five percent of a child’s parenting time. A “rebuttable presumption” is one that can be overcome with sufficient contrary evidence.
Determining a parent’s percentage of parenting time typically involves calculating the number of overnight visits with the child. It can also involve other periods of physical custody when the child and the parent are together. If one parent has the right to two overnight visits per week, plus some additional hours during evenings or weekends, that is likely to count as at least twenty-five percent of the other parent’s parenting time. Time when the child is at school generally does not count towards the total, even if the parent has the right of physical custody during that time.
Section 518.175, subd. 1(a) allows a court to grant parenting time upon a parent’s request during a divorce proceeding, based on a “best interest of the child” analysis. The factors a court should consider when determining a child’s best interests are located in § 518.17, subd. 1(a). The twelve factors include the child’s needs, the parents’ abilities to care for the child, and their “willingness...to cooperate in the rearing of their child.”
Under amendments to the law enacted in 2015, a court must make “detailed findings” on each of these twelve factors when it decides the issues relating to custody and parenting time. It must consider all of the factors, as well as other relevant factors not identified in the statute.
Subdivision 8 of § 518.175 allows a court to grant a parent extra parenting time while the other parent is at work, provided that the court finds that it is “reasonable and in the best interests of the child.” The Minnesota Supreme Court case mentioned above, Hansen v. Todnem, involved a father’s request for additional parenting time in the mornings and afternoons, during times when the mother planned to enroll the child in a school-sponsored before- and after-school care program. The court affirmed lower-court rulings denying the father’s motion. The ruling highlights several important points about requests for additional parenting time.
Subdivision 8 states that additional parenting time must be both “reasonable” and in a child’s best interests. This requires a court to review the twelve “best interest” factors. The court must also consider three factors specifically identified in subd. 8:
The first and third factors closely resemble factors in the “best interest” analysis.
As mentioned earlier, state law requires a court to make “detailed findings” on all twelve “best interest” factors when it decides on custody and parenting time. The father in Hansen argued that the district court erred by failing to make detailed findings in its denial of his motion for additional parenting time. The Court of Appeals, in affirming the district court, ruled that the “detailed findings” requirement only applies to “significant changes” to a parenting plan, while the husband’s motion only sought “insignificant changes and clarifications.”
The Supreme Court found that the statute did not support the Court of Appeals’ interpretation, but it affirmed the ruling on other grounds. It drew a distinction between “establishing custody” and “modifying custody,” and found that the “detailed findings” requirement only applies to the initial establishment of custody and parenting time. When the father brought his motion for additional parenting time, the court had already ruled on custody and parenting time. It was therefore “required to consider only the relevant best-interest factors” [emphasis in original]. This is important for future cases, since it defines the scope of a trial court’s analysis.
Two justices dissented from the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling in Hansen. They limited their opinion “to a specific finding by the district court,” which they characterized as having “no support in the record and...conflict[ing] with statutory language and constitutional principles.”
The state legislature enacted subd. 8, according to the dissent, “to deal with a very specific concern.” They described this concern as “allow[ing] [a] parent to care for a child at home instead of having the child in daycare or other third-party care.”
The district court concluded that the father’s request for additional parenting time was not in the child’s best interest in part because of the mother’s plan to use in-school care. This, the dissenters argued, “implied that ‘quality child care’ was superior to parental care.” They claim that this was not supported by the evidence, and that it goes against the purpose of subdivision 8. While the dissent is not legally binding, it could influence future court rulings on this issue.
Anthony Toepfer, a family law attorney in St. Cloud, Minnesota, represents people during some of the most difficult times in their lives. He advocates for his clients in cases involving divorce, custody disputes, and other family law matters, both in and out of the courtroom. As a client at Toepfer at Law, you will always have access to up-to-date information about your case, and we are always available to answer your questions and address your concerns. Please contact us today through our website, or give us a call at (320) 497-4416 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.
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