Your Child Custody Advocate
Regardless of their assets and other financial holdings, many of our clients find that child custody issues form the most difficult aspect of divorce. At Kathleen M. Newman Family Law, we have handled these issues for more than 35 years.
Our Approach to Minnesota Child Custody
Our entire approach rests on our relationship with you, the client. You will find from the very beginning of our work with us that we put the focus where it belongs: on you, your needs and your goals. Because we take the time to know your case in detail, we can better deliver legal services that are uniquely responsive to your circumstances.
Experienced Advisers Regarding Difficult Child Custody Matters
Our clients include those with and without sophisticated financial positions. As a result, we understand how to evaluate your child custody issues and coordinate them with other elements of your divorce case.
We will help you understand what to do and what not to do when it comes to child custody issues. We will also help you understand how to handle your situation should your partner attempt to turn your child against you.
Compassionate Guidance. Aggressive Protection Of Your Rights.
Our attorneys can also help you when emergency action is necessary to protect your rights and those of your children. Our experienced team is well-acquainted with the ins and outs of securing emergency and temporary orders from the court. We know how to advocate for your rights in these circumstances.
Child custody issues have a daily impact on thousands of Minnesota families. For anyone who is going through a divorce or is otherwise involved in a custody action, understanding the framework set out in Minnesota’s statutory code is essential. While only a qualified attorney can fully assess your case and advise you on the best individualized legal options, learning the basics is the first step in securing a custody arrangement that works for you and your children.
The Different Types of Child Custody
In Minnesota, there are two types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody is a legal term of art that means the right to make decisions pertaining to a child’s everyday life. A party with physical custody typically lives with the child or decides where the child lives, and has the normal parental responsibility of determining how the child spends his or her day. Legal custody, on the other hand, is not such a familiar concept. The right to make broader, less tangible parenting decisions falls under the umbrella of legal custody. Such decisions include determining what kind of religious instruction the child receives, choosing a school, and picking medical treatment options for the child.
There is another important distinction between “sole” and “joint” custody. Of course, even those unfamiliar with the legal code may know that joint custody indicates an arrangement in which parents (or other guardians) share custody, whereas a parent with sole custody enjoys an exclusive right to make decisions. It becomes more complicated, however, in considering the possible variations when these terms are applied to the two types of custody. Any combination is possible; for example, a court-ordered arrangement may grant one parent sole physical custody, but allow both parents input in big decisions through joint legal custody. In addition, each child in the family can have an entirely different custody arrangement.
Regardless of the legal and physical custody arrangements, visitation, or “parenting time” as it is known in Minnesota, is a separate issue that may add another wrinkle. Parenting time is simply the time a non-custodial parent has with a child. In disputed cases, the court usually sets up a schedule for visitation.
Custody can become an issue in a number of situations. The most common is when parents file for divorce or a legal separation, but child custody can also be disputed in other instances, like when a child is being taken care of by a non-parent or when a child becomes involved with the juvenile court system.
If parents are able to agree on a custody arrangement, normally they will file a document called a “stipulation” and the court will defer to their judgment. However, when custody is contested, the case will go either to Family Court or Juvenile Court, depending upon whether it is a divorce or a child protection case.
Child custody laws vary by state, but in Minnesota, the child must have been living in-state with a primary care giver for at least six months before a case can proceed (there are emergency exceptions, however). Ultimately, a court will decide custody arrangements based on what is determined to be in the best interests of the child; many factors can play into this determination, and evidence is likely to be included on each parent’s time availability, relationship with the child and other relevant considerations.
Since child custody is a state law issue, cases in which parents and children reside in different states become very complex. Minnesota statute allows for cooperation between local courts and the courts of other states and sets up provisions allowing for the sharing of testimony and other evidence across state lines. A family law attorney is in the best position to offer advice on the possible venues for filing your custody case.
Custody law is constantly evolving, and changes may be on the horizon in Minnesota. New proposed legislation is aimed at creating more equality between parents in terms of time spent with the children.
The recently introduced bill aims to alter the definition of joint physical custody as well as change how the courts must view custody cases. Specifically, House Bill 69, introduced by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, states that when “parents cannot reach agreement on a parenting arrangement, it is the specific intent of Minnesota law that the parents have a right to a rebuttable presumption of equal time with their children.”
To overcome the presumption, one parent must show that awarding joint physical custody would cause substantial harm to the children by clear and convincing evidence. Once the presumption is overcome, the court would then use the best interest standard to determine custody arrangements.
Securing a custody arrangement can be a complicated, stressful undertaking. But, it is not something you have to do alone. An experienced attorney can guide you through the process, file necessary paperwork with the court, and put together the strongest case possible. When it comes to something as important as your kids, the assistance of a professional is a must. Contact a qualified attorney, and you can be on your way to a favorable custody arrangement.
Judges in many states across the country are considering a relatively new factor when making child custody and parenting time determinations: whether or not the child has been (or will be) exposed to secondhand smoke.
Obviously, more research has come out in recent years proving the real extent of the dangers of secondhand smoke (also known as “environmental tobacco smoke” or ETS). Scientific data, combined with anecdotal reports, has shown a link between the myriad chemicals – many of them toxic or carcinogenic – in secondhand smoke and various conditions that disproportionately impact children, including:
- Ear infections, often leading to hearing loss and the need to have drainage tubes surgically inserted
- An increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Respiratory ailments like bronchitis, infections, pneumonia or asthma
Of course, there is also now a causal link between secondhand smoke exposure and lung cancer, something that family court judges in Minnesota and beyond cannot ignore. Scientists theorize that a child’s still-developing respiratory and immune systems are responsible for the disparate affect on children exposed to secondhand smoke; adults exposed to the same degree usually do not suffer as serious consequences as children.
The extent that a child custody decision is influenced by the presence of a smoker depends on many factors, including the degree of exposure (i.e., if the smoker is a first-degree relative like a parent or sibling or if the smoker is a casual acquaintance who will not be spending much time with the child), any preexisting health conditions and the judge’s own discretion.
Some judges weigh smoking more heavily when making custody determinations, refusing to let the child even visit with a smoker unless the smoker has both showered and changed clothes beforehand or refusing to let a smoker travel in the same vehicle as a child. Other judges are a bit more relaxed about the smoke issue and suggest that no smoking be done in the home while the child is there but don’t impose more onerous restrictions.
Getting the issue on the judge’s radar
Thus far, no judges around the country have specifically found that secondhand smoke exposure cannot be considered when making a child custody determination. If you are involved in a custody dispute where the other parent is a smoker, or if someone close to the other parent (like a partner, parent or sibling) is a smoker, you have the right to bring the issue of secondhand smoke exposure to the judge’s attention. An experienced family law attorney in your area can help you make an informed, well-crafted argument to present to the judge to ensure that secondhand smoke is properly taken into account by the presiding judge in your custody case.
For three years now, a new type of family court in Minnesota’s Hennepin County has been making great efforts to help many unmarried parents establish workable parenting-plans, as well as resolve child-related conflicts.
Otherwise known as the Co-Parent Court, this particular venue is focused on using unique problem-solving techniques to assist unmarried parents work together to raise their children – which in turn has led to more fathers being actively involved in their children’s lives and a higher rate of child support payments being paid on time.
Benefits of Co-Parent Court
Specifically, the goal of Hennepin County’s Co-Parent Court is to improve the overall well-being of children by not only creating personalized parenting plans for unmarried parents but by also aiding in the establishment of paternity and child support – and so far, many of the results have been positive.
In fact, a recent University of Minnesota study, which examined over 700 mothers and fathers who participated on the Co-Parent program, found that an astonishing 87 percent of child support was paid when both parents actually completed the program. Conversely, only 69 percent of child support was paid when looking at parents who were part of the control group but did not participate in the program.
Unpaid Minnesota child support
Although the Co-Parent Court is making strides in collecting support payments for the children of many unmarried parents, the problem of unpaid child support continues to persist for countless other children of both unmarried and divorced couples alike. For instance, during the last quarter of 2012, the Minnesota Department of Human Services reported that $1.69 billion in child support payments were past due or in arrears.
However, it is important to note that just because payments are past due does not mean that one of the parents is actively attempting to avoid obligations. Indeed, overdue child support may be an indicator that payment amounts need to be modified downward due to a change in circumstances – such as a substantial decrease in the income of the liable parent. Although, alternatively, an upward modification may be needed if a child requires extraordinary medical treatment. Ultimately, every situation needs to be examined thoroughly in order to determine the proper course of action.
Regardless of whether you are a parent seeking to collect child support or a parent seeking to modify your child support obligation, it is often best to seek the counsel of an experienced family law attorney. A knowledgeable attorney can help ensure you child’s well-being by outlining your responsibilities and simultaneously protecting your rights.