A host of implications follow the issuance of an Order for Protection in Minnesota when a marital dissolution action is pending or will be filed:

Marriage dissolution petition. A petition for dissolution of marriage or legal separation must allege whether an OFP that governs the parties or a party and a minor child of the parties is in effect and, if so, the district court or similar jurisdiction in which it was entered.

Custody disputes. In a proceeding where two or more parties seek custody of a child, the court must consider and evaluate all relevant factors in determining the best interests of the child. One of the relevant factors set forth in Minnesota law is the effect on the child of the actions of abuse that has occurred between the parents or the parties. When joint legal or physical custody is contemplated, the court must consider whether domestic abuse has occurred between the parents. If domestic abuse has occurred between the parents, the court must apply a rebuttable presumption that joint legal or physical custody is not in the best interests of the child.

Parenting plan. Upon the request of both parents, a parenting plan may be created in lieu of an order for child custody. A parenting plan must include a schedule of time each parent spends with the child, a designation of decision-making responsibilities, and a method of dispute resolution. The court may not require a parenting plan that provides for joint legal custody or the use of dispute resolution processes (other than the judicial process) if the court finds that either parent has engaged in acts of domestic abuse or child abuse. In determining custody, a court must consider a finding under the Domestic Abuse Act or under a similar law of another state that domestic abuse has occurred between the parties.

Parenting time. Upon the request of either parent, the court must grant parenting time on behalf of the child and parent to enable them to maintain a parent-child relationship that will be in the best interests of the child. If the court finds, however, after a hearing, that parenting time is likely to endanger the child’s physical or emotional health or impair the child’s emotional development, the court must restrict parenting time and may deny parenting time entirely, if the circumstances warrant. If a parent requests supervised parenting time and an OFP is in effect, the judge or judicial officer must consider the OFP in making a decision regarding parenting time.

Modification of parenting time. If a parent specifically alleges that parenting time places the parent or child in danger of harm, the court must hold a hearing at the earliest possible time to determine the need to modify the order granting parenting time. The court must modify an order granting or denying parenting time whenever modification would serve the best interests of the child. Parenting time may not be restricted unless the parenting time is likely to endanger the child’s physical or emotional health or impair the child’s emotional development or the parent has chronically and unreasonably failed to comply with court-ordered parenting time.

Additional parenting time to provide child care. The court may allow additional parenting time to provide child care while the other parent is working, subject to reasonableness and the best interests of the child. In making this determination, the court must consider whether domestic abuse has occurred between the parties.

Move to another state. If a parenting-time order is in effect, the court must look at the effect of domestic abuse on the safety and welfare of the child and the parent when considering a request from a parent to move a child to another state. The burden of proof is upon the parent requesting the move, except that if the court finds that the person requesting the move is a victim of domestic violence, the burden of proof is on the parent opposing the move.

Custody and parenting time of children to unmarried persons. A proceeding by a father whose paternity has been recognized under Minnesota law to petition for rights of parenting time or custody may not be combined with a proceeding under the Domestic Abuse Act. Also, a petition by certain other individuals (e.g., grandparents or a person with whom a child has resided) for visitation rights may not be combined with a proceeding under the Domestic Abuse Act.

Participation in a parenting plan when a person is convicted of certain offenses. If a person seeking child custody or parenting time has been convicted of an applicable crime, the person seeking custody or parenting time has the burden to prove that custody or parenting time is in the best interests of the child. This provision applies if the conviction occurred within the preceding five years; the person currently is incarcerated, on probation or under supervised release for the offense; or the victim of the crime was a family or household member. In these cases, the court may not grant custody or parenting time to the person unless it finds that the custody or parenting time is in the best interests of the child. Also, if a person who has court-ordered custody of a child or parenting-time rights is convicted of an applicable crime and no action is pending regarding custody or parenting time, the sentencing court must refer the matter to the appropriate family court or action. The family court must:

  • Grant temporary custody to the noncustodial parent, unless it finds that another custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child; or
  • Suspend parenting-time rights, unless it finds that parenting time with the convicted person is in the best interests of the child.

Proceedings under this law must be expedited. The defendant has the burden of proving that continued custody or parenting time is in the best interests of the child. If the victim of the crime as a family or household member, the standard of proof is clear and convincing evidence.

Temporary orders and restraining orders. A temporary order in a proceeding brought for custody, dissolution, legal separation, or related matters may not vacate or modify an order granted under the Domestic Abuse Act restraining an abusing party from committing acts of domestic abuse. Upon proper motion the court may, however, hear a motion for modification of an OFP concurrently with a proceeding for dissolution of marriage.

Guardian ad litem. In all child custody, marriage dissolution, or legal separation proceedings in which custody or parenting time of a minor child is an issue, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem if the court has reason to believe that the minor child is a victim of domestic child abuse or neglect. The guardian ad litem must represent the interests of the child and provide advice to the  court on custody and parenting time.

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Photo of Cynthia J. Brown Cynthia J. Brown

“Some lawyers play a lot of games. That’s not my approach. There is a lot of gray area in the law, but I try to keep things relatively straightforward for my clients. That way, we can all focus on what’s really important: getting…

“Some lawyers play a lot of games. That’s not my approach. There is a lot of gray area in the law, but I try to keep things relatively straightforward for my clients. That way, we can all focus on what’s really important: getting matters settled fairly and cost-effectively. We’re certainly ready to litigate, but favor empowering clients to control the outcome of their case.”

Cynthia is a founding partner with the Brown Law Offices, P.A. She is a graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. She publishes extensively on divorce and family law issues.

Cynthia Brown was admitted to practice in 1998. After graduating from law school, Cynthia served as the law clerk to the Honorable Timothy R. Bloomquist, retired Chief Judge of Minnesota’s Tenth Judicial District. Upon completing her clerkship, Cynthia practiced family law with a well-known firm in Cambridge, Minnesota. She founded the Brown Law Offices, P.A., in 2003.

Early in her career, Cynthia served as a prosecutor and public defender. In the last decade, however, Cynthia’s practice has focused primarily on family law. She has handled a wide variety of matters throughout the Twin Cities, and greater Minnesota, including divorce, custody, child support, alimony, paternity, step-parent adoption, harassment and grandparent rights.

Cynthia publishes extensively on divorce and family law issues. She is a contributing author to the Family Law Forum, the quarterly publication of the Family Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association. Cynthia also writes a bi-monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and monthly articles for Divorce Magazine.

Cynthia obtained her Bachelor’s Degree, magna cum laude, from the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, and her Juris Doctorate from the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.

Cynthia founded the Amigos de Guatemala Foundation in 2007. She is a former Board Member and President of the Foundation, which provided educational, health and financial resources to underprivileged Guatemalan citizens. Her interest in serving the impoverished began with a medical mission trip to Honduras in 1994.

When she is not practicing law, Cynthia enjoys scrap-booking, soap-making, beading and spending time with family. She and her husband, Jason, also an attorney, have two children.