Custody Orders v. Parenting Plan Orders in Minnesota

In 2000, the Minnesota legislature passed the Parenting Plan Statute, a law modifying the way that courts make child custody decisions. The goal was to end the acrimonious custody battles that often accompany divorce and to facilitate cooperative co-parenting. The law makes establishing and modifying court orders more flexible with a Parenting Plan. Parenting Plans are not appropriate in all circumstances, however, and the court will not order parents to have a Parenting Plan in certain situations. Minnesota parents should understand the difference between a custody and parenting time order and a Parenting Plan order and when the court would use each one.

Custody and Parenting Time Orders

Under a traditional custody order, the court will determine legal and physical custody according to the best interests of the children involved. Minnesota statutes list a number of factors for the court to assess when determining a child's best interests, but the court is free to consider any relevant information. When the court awards one parent physical custody, the court also sets the amount of parenting time the other parent receives.

Once the court issues an order for custody and parenting time, the standard for modifying the order is very high. The party moving to modify the order must show the present arrangement endangers the child.

Custody and parenting time orders are often issued in high-conflict situations, where the parents cannot agree on many issues. Custody orders spell out child support obligations in meticulous detail, a subject about which parents often argue, so these orders are useful when child support is a point of contention. Custody orders set clear boundaries that feuding parents need in order to know exactly what they can and cannot do. A custody order may be beneficial if either parent is planning to move out of state, as other state courts may not be familiar with how to interpret a Parenting Plan.

Parenting Plan Orders

Parenting Plans are more flexible than traditional custody orders. They allow parents to specify in greater detail the rights and responsibilities of each parent, in a way not possible with a traditional custody order. Parenting Plans can deal with issues that a court would not address in a custody order. For example, a parent can specify that he or she will continue with a child's religious instruction in the same way as before the dissolution of the marriage in a Parenting Plan if he or she had taken on that role during the marriage.

It is also easier for parents to modify a Parenting Plan than a custody order. Parents can agree to use the best interest of the child standard for modifying parenting time and custody designations.

Parenting Plans are more useful in situations when parents can agree to co-parent and want some flexibility in the arrangement. Parenting Plans may also help parents feel more satisfied with the outcome of the process since they can be assured that they can incorporate the things that are really important to them into the Parenting Plan.

Parents want what is best for their children and often parents who are splitting up cannot agree on what the best thing for the children is. If you are having problems with child custody, consult an experienced child custody attorney who can help you analyze your options.