Custody, visitation, and parenting time issues touch almost every McLeod County household at one time or another. Over half of Minnesota children either live in a single parent household, with a biological parent and a stepparent, or in some other non-traditional arrangement.
Furthermore, most people relocate about eleven times in their adult lifetimes. Any relocation usually upsets the delicate parenting time balance set forth in the divorce decree.
Because of this combination, Hutchinson family law attorneys handle numerous custody and visitation modification actions. Typically, these matters are agreed. After an expensive and protracted divorce action, many parents do not want to go back to court again over modification actions. If the parties at least have an agreement in principle, a Hutchinson family law attorney can hammer out the details and submit the agreement for judicial approval.
But not all modification matters are agreed. If they are contested, they usually go through the following three stages.
Step One: Best Interests of the Children
Any parenting time modification must be in the best interests of the children. There is a presumption that children benefit from consistent and meaningful contact with both parents. If the parenting time division strays significantly from 50-50 to the 80-20 area, a McLeod County family law judge will probably not approve it straightaway.
The plan could still pass judicial muster if the parent requesting modification can overcome the equal division presumption. For example, one parent may develop a substance abuse problem or marry someone with a history of domestic violence.
Additionally, the judge must consider a number of factors. Note that all these factors relate to the best interests of the children, as opposed to the best interests of the parents:
- Needs of the child,
- Preference of a child,
- Any history of domestic abuse,
- Preference and ability of each parent, and
- Ability to co-parent.
At the Step One phase, the judge’s conclusions are preliminary. If there is any way that the modification might be in the best interests of the children, the court usually allows the action to go forward into the evidence-gathering and resolution phases. The alternative is to throw the matter out of court, and most judges hesitate to take such drastic action.
Step Two: Social Services Investigation
Assuming the action has some legal merit, most judges order social services investigations. The selection process varies by court and jurisdiction. Some judges just assign a social worker at random, and other judges give a Hutchinson family law attorney some input into the selection process.
That input could be important. For example, many modification actions include Parental Alienation Syndrome allegations. Some parents do things like change schedules at the last minute or say derogatory things about the other parent. These actions are designed to drive an emotional wedge between the children and the other parent.
Most people in the family services area know what PAS is and appreciate its dangers. But that’s not true of all social workers.
During the investigation, the social worker typically interviews the parents and children, examines school report cards and other documentary evidence, and talks to doctors, neighbors, and other people who know about the situation. Then, the social worker submits a report to the judge.
A Hutchinson family law attorney can help you put your best foot forward during this process. Additionally, a lawyer can advocate for you when the judge decides what to do in light of the social services investigation report.
Step Three: Mediation
At this point, if the social worker makes clear recommendations, many modification actions settle out of court. But sometimes, the recommendations are rather murky and could be interpreted in several ways. If that’s the case, the matter often goes to mediation.
A third-party mediation, who is often a retired Hutchinson family law attorney, listens to both sides then tries to engineer a settlement. Since the parties stay in separate rooms for most of the session, there is little emotional drama. As a result, the parties focus on the issues. So, mediation works about 75 percent of the time. If it does not work, the case usually goes to a trial before the judge.
Sometimes, Step Three is actually Step One. As mentioned, many times, the parties agree about relocation or other general issues but disagree on the specifics. Sometimes, a neutral Hutchinson family law attorney-mediator can bring the parties together on the details, so there’s no need to go to court.
Contact Savvy Lawyers
Divorce decrees are never meant to be set in stone, so legal modification is pretty much inevitable. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson family law attorney, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in McLeod County and nearby jurisdictions.