How important is it for your children to spend time with you? If you're like most parents, you'd say it's very important. When you spend time with your children, you're communicating, sharing about things as mundane as what each of you did during the day, or as essential as your deeply-held beliefs and values. Time together with your kids allows you to make memories, to learn about and truly know each other, and most important, to show your love for each other. Whether you're just hanging out in the kitchen, or on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, the time you spend with your children strengthens the fabric of your relationship. Therefore, it's good for your kids to spend plenty of time with you, right?
Right. The only thing is, this is also true for your children's other parent. And if you're divorced or separated, time your children spend with one parent usually isn't time spent with the other. How do you give your kids the benefit of time with both parents?
The Minnesota legislature, in its 2015 revision of the “best interests factors” that the courts use to determine custody, recognized the importance of parenting time with both parents when they included the following as a factor to be considered in custody matters:
... the benefit to the child in maximizing parenting time with both parents and the detriment to the child in limiting parenting time with either parent.
What exactly does this factor mean? This language is new with the revised statute, not just carried over from the previous law. Therefore, we have to assume that the legislature had a very specific reason for including it. The statutory “best interests” language was revised to focus more specifically on the needs of Minnesota children, not the desires of their parents. Indeed, this language speaks of the benefit to a child from spending time with both parent, and the detriment or harm to a child from having limited time with either parent.
It seems clear from the plain language of the law that the legislature presumes it's in a child's best interests to have as much parenting time as possible with both parents. Of course, there are some situations, like domestic violence, in which limiting a child's time with one parent is necessary for the child's well being. But in general, Minnesota law favors a child having plenty of time with both mom and dad.
How does this come into play in a custody determination? If you are proposing a custody arrangement that severely limits your ex's time with your children, you can expect the court to look unfavorably on it unless you can show solid reasons for wanting to curtail your ex's parenting time. Similarly, if you have a track record of denying your ex parenting time with the children, or not taking advantage of parenting time you've been granted, the court may well take note of the harm this could cause your kids.
On a practical level, making sure your kids get plenty of time with their other parent shows the court that your focus is on your kids' needs, not your own. Yes, it's important to have time together. But it's also important that your kids be able to have time with their other parent, as well as other loved ones. Showing that you are able to balance these needs of your child will stand you in good stead during a custody determination.
Interested in learning more about the new legislative changes to Minnesota custody law? We invite you to contact us at Mundahl Law with any questions you may have about maximizing your child's time with both parents. We look forward to working with you.