There are wide variety of parenting time schedules available to family court litigants, some equal, some not. With recent changes in the law, courts have moved toward maximizing available time with both parents. Parenting time schedules often take into account a routine access schedule, holiday division, vacations and non-school days.

Once divorce proceedings have begun, procrastinating is one of the worst things you can do. No one particularly wants the headaches of paperwork, lawyer consultation and other details, but it’s a safe bet that your ex is not procrastinating on his or her end, and you don’t want to find yourself at a disadvantage. Here are 6 signs of distraction you need to watch for when working on your Minnesota divorce.

1. Too busy with work

One of the most common ways to put off divorce details is suddenly to find yourself with too much to do at the office. While there’s always work to be done, you probably don’t have to take on as much responsibility as you are. Discipline yourself to keep your normal office hours and don’t use work as an excuse.

2. Too busy with “other” paperwork

There’s nothing better to distract yourself from something unpleasant than something else that’s only slightly less unpleasant. Now is not the time to start figuring out your taxes, for example, or to start an argument with an insurance company over your recent fender-bender.

3. Over-socializing

From spending hours a day on social media to signing up for three different bowling leagues, it’s easy to find so many after-hours activities that you barely have time for anything else. If you’re overdoing the social life, try limiting your outings to one per week until the divorce is final. Also, limit your social media time to an hour or less per day.

4. Home projects

You’ve spent years avoiding cleaning out that garage. Why all of a sudden are you so motivated to do it now? Major projects at home that suddenly must be done now are a clear sign you’re looking for distractions.

5. Rebound relationship

This is potentially a huge distraction, and also a dangerous one because it might be used as leverage against you. If necessary, press pause on your dating life for the moment. Your new romance will do much better without a pending divorce hanging over it, anyway.

6. Over-scrutinizing the process itself

If you find yourself suddenly unhappy with how your divorce attorney is handling things, or you decide to undo a part of the negotiations that have been settled for weeks, these may be subtle signs of a deeper issue. Divorce can be scary, and it’s easy to create delays subconsciously to avoid facing the day when it becomes official. Changes are fine, but if you’re suddenly finding fault with things you’ve already approved, it’s time to ask yourself why.

The traditional “Nuclear Family” – two parents originally and only married to each other, with children – has become less common over the past several decades. This Leave It to Beaver paradigm has given way to a more diverse, intricate set of family types. Let’s explore some of these new family structures and discuss the opportunities and challenges they present.

Person with children marries a spouse with no children. This type of blended family can run into obstacles if the parent-spouse assumes that the new partner will automatically take on the roles and responsibilities of “mom” or “dad.” The childless partner, meanwhile, may feel overwhelmed or awkward because of the new family responsibilities.

To succeed, the couple should establish clear rules regarding how to care for and discipline the children and how to meet family expenses. Strive to show a united front to the children. Allow new relationships to develop organically. Reassess the family’s governing rules periodically, as the children grow and as the relationship evolves (e.g. couple moves in together, etc.).

Divorced parent with kids marries another divorced parent with kids. This “Brady Bunch” blended family can get quite complex, given the sheer number of relationships and all the permutations they create. On the plus side, both “Brady Bunch” spouses will be experienced spouses, and the children (when well managed) can band together to help each other and/or assist with chores around the house. Again, organization is key to harmony. Consider establishing a weekly meeting, where everyone can speak freely, air grievances or creative ideas (if any), and do something fun as a unit.

Widow or widower with children remarries. These step-families can lead to healing or destructive dynamics, depending on the nature of the new parent-child relationships. The absence of the deceased spouse/parent understandably can powerfully influence the family dynamic. Communication and empathy can deepen bonds. Avoid trying to rush intimacy or the psychological healing and coping processes.

Divorced or widowed parents of adult children marry. Work to address issues related to inheritance, medical care and retirement to alleviate concerns among the children. If the blended family is geographically distant from all or some of the children, create opportunities for bonding, such as shared holidays or vacations.

Our experienced and compassionate Minnesota family law attorneys can address the diverse legal issues that arise in blended families. Call us for a free consultation at 763-323-6555.

One of the biggest reasons second marriages end in divorce is conflict between step-parents and children from the previous marriage. If you want your blended family to succeed, foster a positive relationship between the kids and the step-parent. Consider implementing the following tips and ideas:

1. Create a culture of respect. The family unit can’t get along as a unit unless the individual members love and respect each other. To foster those feelings, allow the step-parent some one-on-one time with each child, so everyone can get to know each other better. Schedule a half-hour outing for the step-parent and step-child each week (a trip to the ice cream parlor, a shopping spree, or a trip to park).

2. Buckle in for the emotional roller coaster. Children experiencing major life transitions are emotional. Allow the outbursts to occur. Instead of reacting, make eye contact, and listen to the child vent. Even small things like dropped candy bars and routine activities can be frustrating. Learn to listen to the frustrations (and the deeper needs and feelings behind them) without feeling like you need to fix them or alter coping strategies.

3. Get it off your chest – constructively. Parents and step-parents need to vent, too. Find a confidante outside the family (e.g. a therapist or a patient friend) to work through your own feelings about what’s happening. Don’t complain about the ex or your parenting frustrations in front of the children.

4. Participate in activities that unite the family. You don’t want to leave anyone out. Blended families face challenges when parents and their biological children go off together to do their own thing. That can be great for their relationships, but if the step-parent can never be included in your activities together with your children, tension will inevitably follow. Relieve that tension by finding things all of you can do together.

5. If possible, involve the other parent in solutions. Too many times, parents and step-parents speak negatively about the other parent in front of children. That badmouthing will cause unnecessary tension and even lead to charges of parental alienation. If the other parent isn’t meeting your needs, involve him or her in a solution. Empty complaining won’t make your situation better. And, again, keep negative, derisive comments about the other parent to yourself and away from the children.

Ask your family law questions in a private consultation with one of our Minnesota family law attorneys by calling 763-323-6555 today.

October brings the best of autumn: cooler weather and fun activities for those in Minnesota. Don’t spend your next visitation weekend sitting around the TV and playing video games. Try one of these family-friendly activities instead:

Find a U-Pick Center

Cider mills and U-Pick centers are full of nature’s bounty. Find a pumpkin patch or an apple orchard to spend the day. Sample those yummy apple cider donuts. Let your kids pick out their own pumpkins and carve them as a family. Don’t forget to roast the seeds!

Discover a Corn Maze

Local farms set their corn mazes for the season. The mazes range from courses suitable for preschoolers to the truly challenging for all ages. Consider attending at nightfall for a spookier experience with older children.

Go to the Scarecrow Festival

Visit the Scarecrow Festival in Belle Plain now through October 30. Admission is $5.50 and includes tractor trikes and wagon rides.

Visit the Como Zoo

Have preschoolers at home? The big kids are back in school. Try Lil’ Explorer Thursdays where your little one can learn all about the animals in the exhibits. Bring the whole family on the weekends to explore the Halloween exhibits and everything else that the zoo has to offer.

Visit the Library

Looking for something fun and also free? Visit your local library. Libraries offer story time hours free of charge for toddlers and preschoolers. Even older kids can get involved with workshops. Visit your county or town library’s website to see what’s available in your area.

Prepare a Meal

Pick a dish, and let your kids get involved in the meal preparation. Let them pick the recipe, get the ingredients from the store, and do the cooking. It could be something as easy as pizza, or it could be a new food the family’s never tried before. Always provide supervision around the oven, stovetop, and sharp knives. Pumpkin pie? Pumpkin seeds? Pumpkin bread?

Go to the Museum

Travel to one of the Twin Cities’ museums on a cold or rainy day. Younger children will love the Minnesota Children’s Museum. Older children will enjoy the Science Museum of Minnesota. They’ll be having so much fun that they won’t even notice that they’re learning something new.

Raising children on your own is challenging enough without the added stress of teenage rebellion. Still, it is your duty as parent to establish guidelines for behavior that could keep your child from getting in trouble with the law. Here are some tips for the single parent dealing with a teenager’s bad behavior.

1.    Realize you can’t necessarily control the behavior. Start by trying to understand your teen. They are beginning to go through changes associated with puberty. Secondly, they are at the age when exploring their self-identity is common, so give them some breathing room. It’s possible that a recent divorce could be a contributing factor.

2.    Open up the lines of communication. Your teenager may be experiencing peer pressure and testing boundaries. Start an ongoing dialogue about what constitutes good, respectful behavior. Then, let them make their choices.

3.    Establish guidelines with clear consequences. Parents demonstrate concern for their child’s safety by establishing clear boundaries and communicating the consequences for crossing those boundaries. If you include your teen in a heart-to-heart discussion and give them a chance to provide input, you are more likely to see cooperation when it comes to respecting boundaries.

4.    Praise positive behavior. Instead of harping on the negative behaviors, try praising the positive behaviors. Instill a spirit of pride in your teen, and she’ll try harder to please you.

5.    Model respect. Many parents seek to gain respect by demanding it. Instead, teach your teen to respect others by being respectful toward them. Model the behavior you expect.

Your teenager is trying to come into his or her own. That requires some patience on your part and a careful selection of battles. Help your teenager think through the consequences of unwanted behaviors. If possible, talk to your ex-spouse about your situation, and work together to get your teen on the right track.

Minnesota offers great attractions for the entire family. If you’re stumped about what to do, or where to go, during your parenting time, try these fun locations:

1. Itaska State Park – Itaska is Minnesota’s oldest state park. Not only is it great for camping, but it also contains one of America’s most enduring attractions: the beginning of the Mississippi River. Walk across the rocks from one side to the other.

2. Cave Country – Some of the most beautiful caves in America are in Minnesota (to the surprise of many – including us). Take the kids to see the historic Niagara Cave, or head over to Mystery Cave, which truly lives up to its name. Head southeast to Minnesota’s cave country.

3. Mall of America – In Bloomington, the Mall of America is a place for children of all ages. Go on a tour of the Sea Life Aquarium, have fun at Crayola Experience and The LEGO Store, supplement your child’s education at the Children’s Museum, and walk through the Amazing Mirror Maze.

4. Walnut Grove – Walnut Grove was the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. They have a museum, gift store, and a pageant of entertainment the entire family will love. Small town flair, with minimal cost.

5. Valleyfair – Valleyfair is the largest amusement park in the Upper Midwest. Enjoy thrill rides, family rides, Planet Snoopy, a waterpark, the Dinosaurs Alive exhibition (a favorite of elementary-aged kids), and more.

6. Como Park Zoo – Who doesn’t like animals? Minnesota’s Como Park Zoo is completely free, and it includes incredible exhibits of animals from all around the world. There are also great family entertainment attractions like Como Town and Ribbit Zibit. It’s the perfect day outing when you have the kids.

Whether you have a day visit, a weekend to get away, or just a couple of hours, there is plenty to do in Minnesota for children of any age.

Equal access schedules with children have become easier to achieve, following amendments to Minnesota’s parenting time modification statute.

Pursuant to caselaw, a parent who sought to achieve a 50/50 parenting time schedule, following the issuance of a divorce decree granting them less, had to demonstrate the child’s home environment with the other parent endangered their physical or emotional health. Proving endangerment is one of the most difficult things to do in family court.

The new legislation, regardless of whether a parent has sole physical custody or joint physical custody, provides that a parent, so long as a child’s primary residence does not change, need only demonstrate that the child’s “best interests” are served by the modification – if the parent seeking modification wishes to exercise between 45% and 55% of the available time with a child.

“Best interest” is a much easier hurdle to overcome than “endangerment;” up to 17 different factors play a role in the analysis. One such factor involves the wishes of a child, if that child is of suitable age and maturity. The older the child, the more weight the court will afford that preference.

Accordingly, it has become much easier to secure an equal access schedule with a child who is a bit older, and wishes to do so.

A very common scenario involves a young teen who has lived primarily with one parent and, as they age, now seeks to divide time among two households. This new legislation makes the child’s desired outcome much more likely.

Keep in mind, the custody label is not referenced anywhere in the amended statute. Accordingly, even if a parent does not have “physical custody” by label, they can seek to modify the schedule to a 50/50 split without worrying about endangerment (drug use by the other parent, neglect, assaultive conduct, etc.) in the other parent’s home.

This new legislation seems like a step in the direction of a joint physical custody presumption. More to come, this session.

In recent years, Minnesota’s child support statutes have shifted from a “label-based” model to a “parenting schedule” based model. It used to be that child support was calculated based upon the type of custody (whether joint physical or sole physical) arrangement the parties were awarded by the court.

New emphasis has been placed on the actual amount of parenting time that has been awarded, as opposed to mere labels. For that reason, the label, itself, has basically become meaningless. Some, including me, predict the end of the label in the next five to seven years.

The support guidelines now discount child support for an obligor (the one who pays) if they spend a certain amount of parenting time with their child, or children. Three broad categories exist: uninvolved (less than 10% of the available time with children), involved (between 10% and 45% of the available time with children), and equal (above 45% of the available time with children. The measuring tool is usually overnights.

Parents with less than 10% parenting time receive no credit against their basic child support payment. Parents who are “involved” receive a 12% credit. Parents who are “equal” receive a 50% credit.

We are frequently asked about what sort of parenting schedule might be awarded to a current, or potential, client. With that, we thought it would be helpful to outline the “typical” parenting time schedules that exist, along with the correlating discount percentage against basic child support.

Limited/High Risk Schedules: No child support credit available, as parenting time is less than 10% of available time.

  • Supervised Visits: Visits limited to a supervised safety center a few hours per week. Typically reserved for cases of endangerment. No basic child support credit.
  • As Agreed Upon: Visits are limited, but unsupervised. Scheduled ad hoc. No basic child support credit.

Typical Non-Custodial Schedules: A 12% child support credit is afforded, as time exceeds 10% of available time, but is less than 45% of available time.

  • Every-Other Weekend (F-Su): Bare minimum schedule for involved non-custodial parents. Usually involves parents who live some distance apart, but close enough to facilitate rotating weekends. 12% basic child support credit.
  • Every-Other Weekend (F-Su) & One Evening Per Week: The old “standby,” with children returning each weeknight to the primarily custodian’s residence. 12% basic child support credit.
  • Every-Other Weekend (F-Su) & One Overnights Per Week: Many judges afford overnight visits during the school week. 12% basic child support credit.
  • Every-Other Weekend (F-Su) & Two Evenings Per Week: Slight increase from the “old standby,” but still no overnights during the school week. 12% basic child support credit
  • Every-Other Weekend (F-Su) & Two Overnights Per Week: 6 of 14 overnights. Probably lands in the “joint physical” label about 50% of the time. 12% basic child support credit, with possibility of increase by judge, but not to 50%.
  • Every-Other Weekend (F-M) : Minimal involved schedule includes time until Monday morning school drop off. 12% basic child support credit.
  • Every-Other Weekend (F-M) & One Evening Per Week: One additional overnight e/o Sunday, but still a 12% basic child support credit.
  • Every-Other Weekend (F-M) & One Overnight Per Week: 5/14 overnights. 12% basic child support credit.
  • Every-Other Weekend (F-M) & Two Evenings Per Week: Argument could be made that this borders on 45% of the time, without actual overnights. 12% basic support credit.

Typical Joint Physical Schedules (Equal Time): A 50% basic child support credit is afforded against basic support, as time exceeds 45% of available time.

  • Week On/Week Off: Easiest equal access schedule to follow, but some don’t appreciate a full week without seeing children. 50% credit.
  • Six & One (Overnight): Basically week on/week off, with a day in the middle to see the children. 50% credit.
  • Six & One (Evening) : Same as above, except no overnight during the other parent’s week. 50% credit.
  • Two-Two-Three-Three: Schedule rotates M/T then W/TH, the F, S, S, then starts over, but parent who didn’t have on weekend has M/T. 50% credit.
  • Two-Two-Five-Five: Concrete every M/T with one parent, every W/TH with the other, then rotate F/S/S. Each parent has two days, followed by five days, with the children. 50% credit.

Janet Langjahr, a divorce and family lawyer who authors the Florida Divorce Law Blog recently cited an article in the Northwest Florida Daily News about a 12-year-old girl arrested for assaulting her father. The cause of her anger? Dad was trying to force her to be with him during court ordered parenting time. Not sure who was in the wrong…dad for forcing or daughter for striking.

I represent a client with similar issues. The kids are angry with mom about the fact that she had (and is having) an affair with the man across the street. The kids have demanded that she stop seeing him, but mom refuses, citing “adult privilege.” It hasn’t been pretty, but my client has struggled with what he should do to encourage on ongoing relationship between the kids and mom.

According to Brette McWhorter Sember, author of How to Parent with Your Ex:

The first thing to remember is that while it’s always important to listen to your child’s feelings and opinions, spending time with the nonresidential parent is not optional.

Your child doesn’t get to pick and choose when she is going to go or what circumstances will gain his approval. There are days when kids don’t want to go to school, but you don’t let your child stay home on those days. Similarly, you can’t let your child decide to just skip visitation.

Visitation is more than just a schedule. It is a connection to both parents. And continuing to have a connection with both parents is absolutely essential for your child.

Children are not in charge of visitation. Parents are. Children’s opinions are important, but not decisive. Children are not old enough or mature enough to hold the authority to decide when and if visitation happens. If you give your child that authority you will confuse and overwhelm him. Your child wants and needs to know that both parents are an unconditional part of his or her life.

If your child is a teen, she may need more control over visitation than younger children are allowed, however this does not mean that she can write the other parent out of her life. Teens need to feel some control over their lives, and need time for school, jobs, friends, and activities, but they also do desperately need real connections with both parents.

It is upsetting for everyone involved when a child refuses to go on visitation, but if both parents insist together that there is no choice, then no one will be the villain and your child will have to cope with the reality of the situation.

In cases where there is an extended period of disassociation, reunification therapy may be the only option that will work. You can learn more about this process through Mary Ann Aronsohn’s post on Parental Reunification Therapy.

In my opinion, clients find themselves in dangerous territory when children refuse to spend time with the other parent. They can’t win.

If they force the parenting time, the kids may do the same thing to them, or run away, or hurt themselves – they often claim. Sounds silly, but I’ve had a judge issue a decision based upon a young teen’s threat to run away if she didn’t get her way. With due respect, probably not the right basis to make a custody determination, but my point is that these types of threats may be treated seriously by the judge.

If they don’t force the time, the other parent can easily argue that they enabled parental alienation, which may provide a basis for the court to sanction the “innocent” parent by denying custody.

Personally, any parent who simply puts their hands in the air and says “I don’t know what to do” better figure out a solution…fast. Professionals are here to help. The “I tried” argument doesn’t usually stick with the Court. It boils down to the fact that kids are kids and don’t rule the roost. Judges expect a certain level of “parenting,” which includes getting children to do the things they don’t want to – like dishes, homework, and, sometimes, spending time with the other parent.

Eric Solotoff, a certified matrimonial lawyer based in Roseland, New Jersey, recently featured an article from the Daily Record surrounding a post-decree parenting time dispute between a mother and father. Here’s how ugly (and downright silly) things can get sometimes:

Ruling against a divorced father’s wish that his daughter help him celebrate his birthday, a judge in Morristown Thursday said the child should have the rare chance to spend that time as a bridesmaid at her godmother’s wedding.

Mother Cortney Hooper of Dover took her ex-husband, Steven Miller, to Superior Court to have a judge decide how their 10-year-old daughter should spend Friday night, even though it encroaches on Miller’s visitation time.

Though Miller and his lawyer, Jamie Berger, argued that this weekend belonged to Miller and that his family planned a Friday night celebration for his 35th birthday, Superior Court Judge Mary Gibbons Whipple said she believed the little girl should have the experience of wearing a special dress and shoes and eating the cake and hearing wedding music.

Saying she didn’t mean to diminish the importance of a child celebrating a birthday with a party, Whipple nonetheless said the wedding experience — and accompanying her bridesmaid mother down the aisle — would be unforgettable for a little girl.

Addressing Miller directly, the judge asked: “Do you really want to say ‘no dress, no cake, no wedding, no bridesmaid, no band? You have to go to my birthday party.’ Do you really want to take that away from her?”

Miller said he hadn’t asked his daughter her preference, but that his time with her is precious and his family will be heartbroken that she won’t be present at his party. Miller did get to see his daughter on his actual birthday, April 7, but the party was planned for Friday.

“A birthday party happens every year. A wedding is once-in-a-lifetime,” Whipple said.

Read Solotoff’s post here. Find the full article cited by Solotoff here. The more entertaining part of this are the comments read by paper readers. Find them here.

What do you think?

Appears to me neither the mother, nor the father, hold all the blame. The lawyers representing them at the time of the divorce should have put language in their divorce decree to cover such a situation – especially if, as it seems, it was a high conflict case.

In the cases we handle, we include specific provisions relating to special days (such as holidays, birthdays and family events) that a child may experience. We also build in a hierarchy so there is no question about whose parenting time trumps whose. For example, “life events,” such as a wedding or funeral, take priority over birthdays. Birthdays and holidays take priority over vacation time. Vacation time takes priority over routine access time. Cut and dry.

Of course, the pessimist will ask, “What if you have a funeral and a wedding on the day?” Our clients typically agree to language that requires them to defer to a parenting time expeditor. A parenting time expeditor is a neutral professional who is given authority by the court, and parties, to make parenting time decisions that are consistent with a divorce decree. If either party dislikes the decision, they have a right to appeal to the district court.

The Minnesota statute concerning the appointment of a parenting time expeditor may be found here.

Here are some key things to keep in mind about parenting time expeditors:

  • Parenting time expeditors are not required to be utilized, but courts strongly encourage them.
  • The benefits in using a parenting time expeditor include prompt attention to a particular conflict (immediate, instead of six weeks, or more, to see a judge) and the avoidance of attorney’s fees and court costs.
  • Parenting time expeditors are usually an experienced matrimonial lawyer or former social worker or custody evaluator.
  • The parties usually split the cost associated with the expeditor, and give the expeditor the authority to allocate costs based upon the reasonableness of the parties to a particular dispute.
  • Parenting time expeditors have their own special retainer agreements and will often require a retainer fee placed into a trust account in order to render services.

Even if the parties haven’t agreed to use a parenting time expeditor, or have agreed but haven’t named one in their divorce decree, some of the best expeditors our clients have worked with include: Kim Brandell, Andrea Niemi, Carol Vander Kooi and Elizabeth Shading. Each have a little different style and are worth considering.