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Parenting Time in Minnesota

daughter and father enjoying reading together

When you are accustomed to sharing a home with your child, you don’t typically think about how and when you will spend time with them. You are there to make breakfast, do school drop-off and pick-up, help with homework, and tuck them into bed.

When one parent moves to a different household, however, in cases if divorce or where unmarried parents are no longer an intact family unit,  there is a need to plan and  structure time with your child. Many people still think of a parent with whom a child does not live most of the time as having “visitation.” That terminology is problematic for a couple of reasons. It frames the child as something one parent has possession of, and positions the other parent as a visitor in their child’s life.

Minnesota statutes now refer to visitation as “parenting time.” This language better reflects reality -  that a child spending time with a parent is part of daily life, rather than an unusual event.

How is Parenting Time Determined in Minnesota?

If you and your child’s other parent cannot agree on parenting time on your own, the Court may require mediation of the issue, either through early neutral evaluation (ENE), offered by the court system, or with a private mediator. The mediator serves as a neutral party who helps facilitate an agreement, but does not order or recommend a resolution.

If you cannot reach an agreement on parenting time with the help of a mediator or your respective attorneys, parenting time will be decided by the court.

You and your child’s other parent can always decide how you will arrange parenting time. After all, you know your child, your schedules, and your family’s needs. If both parents agree on a parenting time schedule, the court will generally approve it if the schedule is found to be in the child’s best interests.

Additionally, under Minnesota law, there is a rebuttable presumption that a parent “is entitled to receive a minimum of 25 percent of the parenting time of the child. This percentage is typically determined using the number of overnights. Keep in mind that while this is a presumption, it can be rebutted by the parent advocating that the other parent should receive less than 25 percent of overnights per year.

Best Interests of the Child Factors in Determining Child Custody and Parenting Time in Minnesota

The court bases parenting time decisions on “the best interests of the child” factors set forth in Minnesota Statutes section 518.17, subdivision 1. They include:

  • The child’s physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and other needs and the effect of the proposed parenting time arrangement on those needs and development;
  • Any special medical, mental health, or educational needs of the child and the effect of the proposed parenting time arrangement on those needs;
  • The child’s reasonable preference, if the court decides the child is mature enough to express an independent and reliable preference;
  • Any history of domestic abuse in either parent’s household or relationship;
  • Any physical, mental, or chemical health issue of the parent that affects the child;
  • Each parent’s history of participation in caring for the child;
  • Each parent’s willingness and ability to provide ongoing care for the child, to meet the child’s ongoing needs, and to maintain consistency and follow through with parenting time;
  • How changes to home, school, and community would affect the child’s well-being;
  • How the proposed parenting time arrangement would affect the child’s relationships with parents, siblings, and other significant persons in the child’s life;
  • The benefit to the child of maximizing parenting time with both parents and the detriment to limiting time with either parent;
  • The willingness of each parent to support the child’s relationship with the other parent and to encourage and permit frequent, continuing contact with the other parent; and,
  • The willingness and ability of parents to cooperate in the rearing of their child and to maximize information sharing and minimize exposure of the child to parental conflict.

The court must make  detailed findings on each factor and how the factors relate to each other. The court must also consider that it is in the child’s best interests to have “safe, stable, and nurturing relationships” with each parent. The court must consider that both parents have the capacity to develop and sustain nurturing relationships with the child, unless there are “substantial reasons” to believe otherwise.  The Court can also consider that there are multiple ways in which a parent can provide for a child’s needs, love, and guidance and may differ as between the parents and between cultures.   Additionally, conduct of one or both parents that does not affect or impact the child “shall not” be considered. 

Can Parenting Time be Denied if the Other Parent Fails to Pay Child Support?

No.  They must be seen as separate, but co-existing issues.  While it may seem fair to deny a parent who doesn’t pay child support parenting time, parenting time is not something one parent “earns” by paying child support. Parenting time is for the child, so he or she can have the benefit of a relationship with both parents.

Denying parenting time because of non-payment of child support punishes not only the parent, but the child. The proper response to a failure to pay child support is asking the court to enforce the child support order.

What Can I Do if the Other Parent Denies Me Parenting Time?

Document all your efforts to exercise parenting time, as well as the other parent’s response. Continue to try to exercise parenting time, and contact your Minnesota family law attorney for help asking the court to enforce the order for parenting time. The court may order make-up parenting time, hold the other party in contempt, or even use the repeated denial of parenting time as grounds for a change of custody.

Can a Child Refuse Parenting Time?

Minnesota courts may take a child’s wishes regarding parenting time and custody into consideration if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age and maturity to express a preference. Once there is a parenting time order in place, parents should make every effort to encourage children to spend time with the other parent as ordered.  If the parenting time is in a court order, a custodial parent should follow that court order, not use the desire of the child not to see the non-custodial parent as a reason to deny the parenting time.  The wishes of the child, once again, however, can be used as a possible basis to modify the parenting time schedule.  But unless or until a modification happens, the existing court order must be followed.

If you have questions about Minnesota parenting time, please contact Fremstad Law to schedule a consultation.