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Parenting Plans in Minnesota

As of January 1st, 2001, Minnesota litigants have had the option of stipulating to a "Parenting Plan" in lieu of a traditional custody award. A major goal of this legislation was to help parents avoid getting bogged down in arguments over the custody label. Unfortunately, the legislation hasn’t entirely lived up to its promise. The statute still requires custody labels, and although this is supposedly only for purposes of enforcement in other states, it remains a source of conflict.

Nevertheless, the Parenting Plan legislation does make possible two good options not previously available to parties:

First, it allows parties to stipulate to a "best interest of the child" standard for purposes of any future motions to modify parenting time. This is in lieu of the "endangerment" standard which would otherwise apply. Prior to enactment of the Parenting Plan legislation, parents were not even free to stipulate to a standard other than endangerment for future modification motions. This resulted in many custody conflicts even where both parties agreed that one or the other should have custody at present, because the prospective non-custodial parent didn’t want to be in a position of having to prove endangerment in order to modify custody in the future.

Second, it allows parties to stipulate to a "best interest of the child" standard for purposes of any future motion to move the children’s residence out of state. Without such a stipulation, the non-custodial parent would have to prove either that the move would endanger the children, or that the move is only intended to interfere with parenting time, in order to prevent the move.

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When custody is in dispute, a Minnesota court issues a custody order that is in the "best interests of the child." Joint custody will only be awarded if parents have shown the court that they are willing and able to cooperate. A court also examines several factors with the child's welfare in mind. They include (1) the child's preference, (2) each parent's health, (3) the child's health and whether any special needs exist, (4) each parent's relationship with the child, (5) which parent has been the child's primary caretaker, (6) each parent's ability to provide a stable environment for the child, (7) any history of domestic violence or child abuse and (8) any allegations of abuse.
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