SMRLS' Minnesota Supreme Court Victory

July 23, 2018

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) attorneys recently successfully argued an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The case, Christensen v. Healey, was centered on whether to apply the Minnesota best-interests-of-the-child standard or the endangerment standard to the father’s motion to increase his parenting time to every other week.

In the case, the parents had stipulated to joint legal custody, with sole physical custody and the child’s primary residence with the mother. When the child was 7, the father moved to expand his parenting time to alternating weeks throughout the entire year. He lived an hour away from the mother’s residence.

The district court found the modification would change physical custody and primary residence, applying the endangerment standard and dismissed the father’s motion. The court of appeals reversed this decision, holding that the district court improperly focused only on the proportion of parenting time.

After SMRLS' appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the decision was reversed, concluding that the modification was a de facto change in physical custody to which the endangerment standard applied.

As a result of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision, district courts must evaluate modification motions under the totality of the circumstances to decide if it is a substantial change that would modify the parties’ custody arrangement. But a motion for equal parenting time is not automatically a motion to modify custody because joint physical custody need not be equal parenting time.

"This case reinforces the authority of the district court to assess what is the effect on a child of a parenting time modification motion and to address the proposed change under the proper legal standard," SMRLS attorney Charles Thomas said. "The Supreme Court's opinion affirms the district court's exercise of its discretion in this case."

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