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Legislation Intended to Change Minnesota Parenting-Time Law May Be Reintroduced in 2011

A few state senators and a nonprofit organization came together during the 2010 legislative session seeking to modify the law on parenting time.  They aimed to alter the perceptions of lawmakers, judges, divorce lawyers and parents through a bill that would change parenting-time presumptions under Minnesota law.  Even though the bill did not pass, a state representative says she will introduce a similar bill in 2011.

Seeking Change in Parenting-Time Presumptions

The Center for Parental Responsibility is a nonprofit organization that was created after it’s founder saw how the lives of her friends and family were impacted by divorce and family court proceedings.  One of the organization’s goals is the passage of a bill that presumes that mothers and fathers will share equally in parenting after divorce or separation.

During the 2010 legislative session, Representative Tim Mahoney introduced a bill that closely aligned with the Center for Parental Responsibility’s ambitions.  After “a group of angry dads” spoke to her at the Minnesota State Fair, Representative Kim Norton took over as chief author of the bill in the House of Representatives.  Kathy Saltzman authored an identical bill in the Senate.

What the Bill Proposed

The bill, H.F. 1003, sought to increase the percentage of parenting time that each parent is presumed entitled to when making parenting-time determinations.

Under current Minnesota law there is a rebuttable presumption that a parent is entitled to receive at least 25 percent of the parenting time for the child.  This means that 25 percent is the starting point when making parenting-time arrangements, but if other evidence is produced that supports more or less time for a parent, changes to the percentage of parenting time may be made.

Representative Norton’s bill proposed increasing the presumptive parenting-time percentage from 25 to 40 percent.  The bill also included a provision stating that, if a judge finds the presumption of 40 percent parenting time is rebutted by other evidence, the judge must make a written finding specifically identifying the factors that led to the judge’s decision as well as the evidence used by the judge in making his or her parenting-time determination.

As physical custody is intricately tied to child support obligations, the proposed legislation also contained provisions adjusting the amount of financial support a parent owes if his or her parenting time is adjusted.  Put simply, a parents support obligation is increased if less time is spent with the child, and it is decreased if more time is spent with the child.

Importantly, the bill also made an exception for cases involving domestic abuse.  A parent who has a history of domestic violence would not be qualified for the increase in the presumptive parenting-time percentage.

Even though the bill was unsuccessful, Representative Norton said she plans to introduce a similar bill in the 2011 legislative session that would increase the presumptive parenting-time percentage to 50 percent.  While there is some support for more equal parenting-time arrangements, there are also critics who oppose raising the presumptive percentage for either parent.

Arguments For and Against the Proposed Change

Many people, including the legislators who wrote the bill, say the time has come to change the law in order to fairly reflect today’s society where fathers play an increased role in their children’s lives.  They argue that fathers are now involved in parenting more than ever and that they deserve a better opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with their child.

However, opponents of an increase in the presumptive parenting-time percentage say that fathers can have a meaningful relationship with their children without changing the existing law.  The director of the Minnesota Fathers and Families Network, Paul Masiarchin, struggled with the issue for a year before taking a stance against the proposed change.  He based his decision partly on information from a similar system in Australia, where even higher conflict was reported among ex-spouses after family courts changed to an equal parenting-time presumption in 2009.

The Likely Effects of a Change

According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, there are about 240,000 fathers in Minnesota with child-custody agreements.  In 2009, volunteers from the Center for Parental Responsibility analyzed divorce files over an 18-month period in seven counties, and they found that in most cases fathers received 25 percent parenting time with the child.

Based on this information, any change to the presumptive parenting-time percentage could have a large effect on fathers, mothers and children in Minnesota.  In addition to the impact on families and judges for future child-custody determinations, family courts could become even more overwhelmed with child-custody modification proceedings if the law were changed and also applied retroactively to existing custody arrangements.

If you have questions regarding child custody, parenting time or child support arrangements, contact a knowledgeable family law attorney in your area.  An attorney experienced in handling child custody cases can help you understand your rights and obligations as well as how any change in the law may affect you.

Abstract: Legislation introduced to change parenting-time laws in Minnesota did not pass in 2010, but it may be back in 2011.  Here is what you should know about the proposed changes.