Even a ‘Slight Adjustment’ to a Parenting Time Schedule Requires a Parent to Meet a Burden of Proof

Posted on Tuesday, December 24th, 2019 by Tim Simonson and is filed under Children,  Courts,  Divorce.

In Minnesota, the law says at section 518.175 that a parenting time schedule may be modified if it serves the best interests of the child and doesn’t change the child’s primary residence; this means that changes can be made to a parenting time schedule even without a trial or any proof that the other parent isn’t as good a parent as you are.

In a decision from last year, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a court doesn’t have to consider all 12 best interest factors (these are listed at section 518.17) when changing a parenting time schedule; only the relevant best-interest factors. In theory, this can mean a lot less work for parents who are seeking minor changes to their parenting time schedules.

But it’s not clear what the relevant best interest factors are – that’s up to the court, and usually determined on a case by case basis, according to the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision in the Custody of MJH.

It’s also not clear what the law means by the child’s “primary residence”, which can make it difficult to know what a parent has to prove to a court when seeking changes to a schedule. For example, in cases where children spend time in both parents’ homes on a weekly basis, which parent’s home is the primary one?

The Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision Suleski v Rupe considered ‘primary residence’ to be “where the child attends school, participates in extracurricular activities, socializes with peers, or worships” and “other important aspects of a child’s life.” If changes to the parenting schedule change none of these things, then the court doesn’t need as much proof as it normally would, to change the parenting schedule.

But when seeking any adjustment to a parenting time schedule, pay close attention to which of the 12 best interest factors are affected, and, whether the adjustment affects the child’s school, activities, and peer relationships. These factors will help the court in understanding whether any requested change will change the child’s residence and serve his or her best interests.

This is no easy feat, and the Court will need to see how the changes benefit the children. Case in point: the Court of Appeals recently denied a father’s request to add one hour of to his weekday parenting time, because he could not show how this extra time promoted what is best for his children, or how it wouldn’t interfere with the children’s evening schedule, or interrupt their school work.  The Court looked at the parents’ already ‘quarrelsome’ relationship, and decided that the father’s schedule changes would make the relationship even worse.

Before deciding whether to pursue any change to a parenting time schedule, be sure to know which legal standard you need to meet, since a Court will be dismissive of even a minor change without sufficient proof.

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