For the first time in a number of years, the Minnesota Legislature passed a series of significant reforms in the area of family law. The omnibus family law bill (S.F. 1191) signed by Governor Dayton on May 14, 2015, (1) rewrote the Best Interests of the Child Statute (Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1); (2) clarified the remedies available for a party that has been denied court ordered parenting time; (3) granted authority to parties to contractually agree to grant the court jurisdiction to award or modify maintenance that has been previously divested of jurisdiction; (4) outlined the documents parties must exchange to verify income for support purposes after the entry of the divorce decree and provided remedies for non-compliance; (5) created a clear test for the court to apply in awarding the tax dependency exemptions for minor children; (6) allowed the court authority to retroactively modify maintenance with the agreement of the parties; (7) modified the judgment rate of interest for support judgments in family law cases; and (8) adopted the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act. All of these changes become effective August 1, 2015.
Best Interests of the Child
Minnesota fundamentally modified the factors applied by the Court in ruling on the issues of custody and parenting time. The rewritten factors are:
- A child’s physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual and other needs, and the effect of the proposed arrangements on the child’s needs and development;
- Any special medical, mental health or educational needs that the child may have that may require special parenting arrangements or access to recommended services;
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient ability, age and maturity to express an independent, reliable preference;
- Whether domestic abuse, as defined in section 518B.01, has occurred in the parents’ or either parent’s household or relationship, the nature and context of the domestic abuse; and the implications of the domestic abuse for parenting and for the child’s safety, well-being and developmental needs;
- Any physical, mental or chemical health issue of a parent that affects the child’s safety or developmental needs;
- The history and nature of each parent’s participation in providing care for the child;
- The willingness and ability of each parent to provide ongoing care for the child; to meet the child’s ongoing developmental, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs; and to maintain consistency and follow through with parenting time;
- The effect on the child’s well-being and development of changes to home, school and community;
- The effect of the proposed arrangements on the ongoing relationships between the child and each parent, siblings and other significant persons in the child’s life;
- 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;
- Except in cases in which domestic abuse as described in clause 4 has occurred, the disposition of each parent to support the child’s relationship with the other parent and to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent; and
- The willingness and ability of parents to cooperate in the rearing of their child; to maximize sharing information and minimize exposure of the child to parental conflict; and to utilize methods for resolving disputes regarding any major decision concerning the life of the child.
In addition, the legislature made the following clauses applicable to custody and parenting time determinations:
- The Court must make detailed findings on each factor and explain how the factors led to the ultimate decision. The Court may not use one factor to the exclusion of all others.
- The Court shall consider that it is in the best interest of the child to promote the child’s healthy growth and development through safe, stable, nurturing relationships between a child and both parents.
- The Court shall consider both parents as having the capacity to develop and sustain nurturing relationships with their children unless there are substantial reasons to believe otherwise. In assessing whether parents are capable of sustaining nurturing relationships with their children, the court shall recognize that there are many ways that parent can respond to a child’s needs with sensitivity and provide the child love and guidance, and these may differ between parents and among cultures.
- The Court shall not consider conduct of a party that does not affect the party’s relationship with the child;
- Disability alone, as defined in section 363A.03, of a proposed custodian or the child shall not be determinative of the custody of the child.
- The Court shall consider evidence of a violation of section 609.507 [ ] in determining the best interests of the child.
- There is no presumption for or against joint physical custody, except as provided in clause 9.
- Joint physical custody does not require an absolutely equal division of time.
The Court shall use a rebuttable presumption that upon request of either or both parties, joint legal custody is in the best interests of the child. However, the court shall use a rebuttable presumption that joint legal custody or joint physical custody is not in the best interests of the child if domestic abuse, as defined in sections 518B.01, has occurred between the parents. In determining whether the presumption is rebutted, the Court shall consider the nature and context of the domestic abuse and the implications of the domestic abuse for parenting and for the child’s safety, well-being and developmental needs. Disagreements alone about whether to grant sole or joint custody does not constitute an inability of parents to cooperate in the rearing their children.
Maintenance Jurisdiction and Retroactive Modification
Parties may now contractually agree to restore jurisdiction to the Court to award or modify maintenance that has been previously waived. Further, the parties may also agree to allow the court to retroactively modify maintenance.
A parent that has been wrongfully deprived of parenting time has been granted enhanced remedies when there has been repeated and intentional denial or interference with parenting time including award of compensatory parenting time, impose a civil penalty, require the posting of a bond, award reasonable attorney fees and costs, award any other remedy the court finds to be in the child’s best interest.
Providing Income Information
Parties subject to payment of child support are required to exchange the following documents within 30 days of receiving a request:
• a complete copy of the party’s filed income tax returns for the preceding year or
• if the return has not been filed:
• The party’s 1099 form
• The party’s W-2 form
• The party’s K-1 form.
If a party fails to provide the required information, the Court may issue an order providing compensation to the other party for costs and attorney fees in obtaining the information. Motions must be made within three years of when the information was due. Further, a party bringing a meritless motion may be ordered to pay costs and reasonable attorney fees.
Judgment Rate of Interest
Family law judgments will bear interest at the rate of interest based on the secondary market yield of one year United States Treasury bills, calculated on a bank discount basis. The Court is granted discretion to eliminate interest owing if the Court finds that it is necessary to avoid causing an unfair hardship to the debtor.
The legislature provided a clear test for the Court to apply in deciding the allocation of the dependency exemptions for minor children. These factors include: (1) the financial resources of the parties; (2) whether not awarding the exemption negatively impacts that parent’s ability to care for the child; (3) whether the parents will obtain a tax benefit of exercising the exemption; and (4) the impact of the exemption on either party’s ability to claim a premium tax credit under the Affordable Care Act. A party receiving less than ten percent of parenting time will not eligible to receive the exemption unless agreed by the parties. The Court may modify the allocation based upon a substantial change in circumstances.
Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act
Minnesota adopted the multi-state uniform law that now makes the procedure for protecting members of armed services rights to custody and parenting time for their children clear and predictable from state to state.