In Minnesota, it used to matter a great deal, on multiple levels, how a parent's custodial relationship to his or her child was described. Custody labels affected child support and a parent's ability to move out of state. Changes in Minnesota law over the last several years have significantly changed the impact of custody labels on these issues. In many ways, the change in reliance on labels is a benefit to parents and children—a "non-custodial" parent no longer needs to feel like a "visitor" in his or her child's life—but all parents should be aware of how the change in law may negatively affect them.
Prior to 2007, Minnesota was one of a small group of states that did not consider the income of both parents when calculating child support. The parent with sole physical custody of the child received child support; the other parent was assigned to pay. This arrangement made it critically important, from a financial standpoint, to be awarded sole physical custody of one's child.
The result of this, of course, was that some parents lobbied hard to receive physical custody of their children not because that was necessarily best for the child, but because of the financial benefit of being the custodial parent. Another outcome of the former law was the inequity that arose in situations in which the custodial parent made much more money than the non-custodial parent.
On January 1, 2007, Minnesota law regarding child support changed to an "income shares" model designed to reflect modern realities: not every custodial parent is a mother, not every mother stays at home with the children, and all parents are responsible for the support of their families.
The new law takes into account both parents' gross income when calculating child support, as well as the percentage of time the child spends in each parents' home. The child support calculator sets each parent's fair share of the guidelines child support for which they are responsible. When the parenting time is less than 45% then the parent with less parenting time is expected to pay their fair share of support to the other parent. When the parenting plan is between 45.1% and 50% then the idea is that each parent is paying child support to the other for the time that the child is in the other parent's home; these amounts are offset against each other, so that in practice the parent with the greater child support obligation is the payor. What is important now is not whether one parent has "sole physical custody," but how much time the child spends in his or her home.
There has also been a decreased reliance on custody labels for Minnesota courts deciding whether to allow a parent to move out of state with a child. At one time, if a parent had primary physical custody, Minnesota courts would grant a "reasonable request" to move out of state by that parent. The burden was on the non-custodial parent to show that the request was not reasonable and the move should not be granted.
Now, Minnesota Statutes section 518.175(3) makes clear that if a parent with whom a child lives wants to move out of state with that child, the burden is on the parent who wants to move to show that the move would be in the child's best interests. There is one notable exception to this within the statute: "if the court finds that the person requesting permission to move has been a victim of domestic abuse by the other parent, the burden of proof is upon the parent opposing the move."
Another factor of which parents should be aware is that 518.175(3) applies only to post-dissolution matters. That is to say, if a parent is contemplating a move out of Minnesota, there may be an advantage, in terms of being able to move with the child, of moving prior to the divorce.
Minnesota custody labels have not been rendered completely irrelevant by changes in family law statutes. In particular, how custody is described can make a difference in future modifications of parenting time. If one parent has sole physical custody, the child is always going to live primarily with that parent unless custody itself is modified. If, however, parents have joint physical custody, there exists greater flexibility for modifying parenting time. For example, if one parent has the child forty percent of the time and the other has sixty percent of the time, they might move to a fifty-fifty arrangement, or even to an arrangement where the parent who previously spent less time with the child now spends more.
As with all custody matters, it's important to consult with an experienced Minnesota family law attorney in order to understand how the law applies to the facts of your particular case. Please contact us at Mundahl Law with any questions you have about how Minnesota custody labels and law will affect your family. We look forward to working with you.