Focus on a Parenting Plan and Not Custody

Actual Time with Children Matters More than a Label

In Minnesota there are two kids of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody involves making major life decisions for the children such as where they will live, go to school, what religion they will practice, and health decisions. Physical custody involves the day to day decisions such as where they will have play dates, what they will wear, when they will do their homework, and what they will eat. Both types of custody can be either sole to one parent or joint (shared by both parents). It is common in Minnesota for parents to share joint legal custody, unless one parent doesn’t want custody. Legal custody doesn’t impact how much time a parent spends with his/her children.

Historically, physical custody could impact how much a parent might pay in child support but that is not true today. Today, child support may be raised or lowered based on parenting time, rather than a custody label. For example, a mother could have sole physical custody and a father might still have the children 40% of the time. Similarly, parents could have joint physical custody but the mother might have the children 70% of the time. In reality, the parenting time schedule is more important than custody labels because the schedule dictates the actual parenting time each parent will have and also dictates how much child support will be paid. (see post on Child Support for more information on the connection between parenting time and support payments).

A parenting plan can be detailed, or it can be loose. Some parents, particularly of older teenagers, might not have specific days and times for parenting time; rather they might have a clause that says the non-custodial parent will have liberal parenting time as the children desire.

Parents of younger children though should have a detailed parenting plan. It is important to remember that parents always have the authority to agree to a different parenting time than the one in their court order, but the plan in the court order provides a framework for parents to follow in situations where they do not agree.

It is not uncommon for parents in an amicable divorce to think they don’t need a detailed parenting plan. We advise parents in these situations to create a detailed plan anyway because no one knows if there will be issues later and it is so much easier to agree on a plan while people are motivated to work together than when they are faced with a divisive issue.

For example, imagine the father is supposed to have the children for Christmas Eve, but the mother wants the children to meet her new boyfriend’s family and they are only in town on Christmas Eve. If Father doesn’t like mother’s new friend, he may not be willing to just forgo his time with the kids and if their parenting plan doesn’t have set times for exchanging the children, mother may not get the kids until 11:30 at night. A parenting plan would provide exact times for pickup and drop off and if a parent refuses to follow the plan in the court order, that parent would in contempt of the order. Of course, the parents can agree to make their own arrangement and as long as they both consent to it, they can do whatever they think is best.

To learn more about creating a parenting plan that works for you and the impact it might have on child support, contact us today.