Minneapolis Child Custody Attorney
Helping Families in the Twin Cities Ensure Their Child’s Best Interests Are Protected
Nothing in family law is more emotional or challenging than determining the best interest of your children. Brian L. Sobol, with his undergraduate degree in child psychology and over 38 years of experience in litigation of custody and parenting time disputes, is uniquely qualified to help guide you through this emotional process.
Because the laws as to custody and parenting time are complex, below is a brief summary of some of the processes and concepts you will need to understand when considering the future best interests of your children. While this is a difficult decision for parents, no one knows your children better than you and your spouse, and it is always better for you to reach an agreement as to your children’s future rather than delegating that decision to a judge, who is essentially a stranger to you and your children. As many judicial officers may tell you at the commencement of the case, you can either save your children’s college tuition for college or spend it fighting over how many overnights each of you will have with your children.
More often than not, absent genuine issues of chemical dependency or mental health concerns of a parent impacting their ability to parent a child, it is better for you to control your children’s future and decide amongst yourselves schedules and duties as to custody and parenting time, rather than putting these important decisions into the hands of a stranger.
Contact Brian at Sobol Family Law to discuss these important issues involving the best interests of your children.
One of the most heart-wrenching aspects of any divorce involves the decisions that must be made as to how children will be cared for when their parents begin living separate lives in separate homes. Some parents may have assumed during the marriage that they would be able to stay at home and care for their children during their school years, and now face the prospect of having to return to the job market part-time or full-time. Other parents were actively involved in their children's care and now fear that they will lose their relationship with their children upon moving out of the homestead and starting a separate life.
In a perfect world, you and your spouse will have sufficient strength and love for your children to know how to craft a parenting plan that is in their best interest. Regrettably, however, many times, the emotions you are experiencing at the time, and the differences you are experiencing with your spouse, make this type of decision and compromise difficult if not impossible to make on your own. In the past, spouses have become stuck on the labels attached to decisions involving the children – sole custody, physical custody, and visitation sometimes sound as if children are property to be awarded to one party over the other.
The family law system has developed a process to assist the court in making these difficult decisions if the parties are unable to reach their own agreements. Especially over the past decade, strides have been made to change the labels previously associated with decisions involving the care of children, and many final parenting agreements can abandon labels altogether. While the labels of custody still may be used, sole physical custody has now.
Legal & Physical Custody
Relative to determinations as to child custody, in Minnesota there are two types of custody, "legal" and "physical" custody:
- Legal custody means the right to determine the child's upbringing, including education, health care, and religious training. "Joint" legal custody means both parents have equal rights and responsibilities to participate in making major decisions affecting the child's upbringing, including education, health care, and religious training.
- Physical custody and residence means the routine daily care and control and the residence of the child – in other words where the child is living and who is making daily decisions as to the child's routine care.
Most parents are able to agree to a parenting plan, either amongst themselves or with the help of a mediator or parenting time evaluator. Your plan will define what role each parent will have in making legal custodial decisions as to your children's education, health care, and religious upbringing. Your plan will set forth your children's residential schedule, and who is responsible and when for making the day-to-day decisions involving the care of your children. It may, in certain circumstances involving concerns over mental health or chemical dependency, place limits or conditions on parenting time. Your plan will also set forth a schedule for dividing holiday and vacation time with your children.
Parenting plans can be designed to anticipate the multitudes of potential issues which may arise in the future relative to co-parenting of children, including possible disputes over holidays, birthdays, school events, extracurricular activities, vacations, illness, and drop-offs and pickup times and locations. The aim of this language and planning is to head off future disputes before they happen so that children can grow and thrive free from the strife which occurs when parents have such disputes.
Social Early Neutral Evaluations
Over the last twenty years, Minnesota has led the country in a process known as Social Early Neutral Evaluations (SENEs). An SENE is essentially a mini-custody evaluation/mediation conducted in a three- to four-hour session. The program has been extremely successful, and statistically, approximately 70% of custody/parenting time disputes are settled in the SENE process. In an SENE, the parties will agree to a panel of two evaluators, usually psychologists who conduct custody evaluations but many lawyers also serve as SENE neutrals. The panel is typically gender-neutral, with one male and one female evaluator. The parties and counsel will meet with the evaluators (today typically in a Zoom meeting), with the parties first discussing the children, their involvement in caretaking, any concerns about the other parent, and their desire for custody and parenting time. Absent a need for the evaluators to have other information (if allegations of mental health or chemical dependency are raised), the evaluators will then adjourn to consult for 15 to 20 minutes, and will then return and advise the parties based upon what has been presented, as to a schedule they believe will be the result were the parties to invest in a formal custody evaluation. The evaluators then change hats and become quasi-mediators, and try to help the parties reach an agreed-upon parenting plan. Once hearing from a third party what they believe will be the result of protracted litigation over custody and parenting time, as noted most cases will reach an agreement in the SENE process.
What Happens If Spouses Cannot Agree on a Parenting Plan?
If you and your spouse cannot decide on an appropriate parenting plan, ultimately, your children's future will be determined in part by a stranger - a judge or referee making the decision of where your children will live and how much time the children will spend with their mother and how much time with their father. Under Minnesota Law, this decision must be made in the "best interests" of the minor children. The statute sets forth twelve primary factors the Court must make findings on in determining the best interest of children in determining custody and parenting time. Other factors may be considered if there are allegations of domestic abuse, or if one parent desires to move out of state with the child or children. No one factor is determinative.
Custody & Parenting Time Evaluations
To assist the court in making findings as to the best interests and joint custody factors, where the parents cannot agree, the courts sometimes will appoint a neutral third party to conduct a "custody or parenting time evaluation." Only a few counties today have the resources to maintain a court services department to conduct custody evaluations, and many courts today feel that they can make a decision as to parenting time without a custody evaluation. Custody evaluations, especially through a private psychologist, can be very expensive.
At the end of the evaluation process, many evaluators will first meet with counsel for the parties and orally present their recommendations. Thereafter counsel and the parties are given another opportunity to try to reach an agreement as to a parenting plan. Only if an agreement then cannot be reached will a full report be issued, and then the parties will try the issue to the court.
Parenting Time Expeditors & Parenting Consultants
To assist parents in resolving disputes as to parenting time, and in making decisions involving the care and upbringing of their children, both during the proceedings and thereafter, there are several types of professionals available to assist you and your children. Parenting time expeditors can be appointed by the Court with or without the agreement of the parties. Expeditors can decide issues arising after a parenting time order has been issued. Parenting Consultants (PCs) can only be appointed if both parties agree to a PC. The scope of authority of a PC to decide parenting time issues is much broader than that of an Expeditor and is determined by the parties in drafting an agreement for a PC.
Guardian Ad Litems
The court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the children and to advise the court on issues of custody and parenting time. A guardian is supposed to be appointed where there is an allegation of danger or harm to a child. Notwithstanding this, budgetary constraints today sometimes limit the appointment of a guardian. When appointed, the guardian can meet with the child/children and may be directed to make recommendations as to custody and/or parenting time. In some counties, courts will appoint guardians to make such recommendations in lieu of a custody evaluator.
The Benefits of Shared Parenting
Over the past few decades, more and more psychological studies have emerged showing that with two well-functioning parents, the more time your children spend with each of you, the better adjusted they will be growing up. It is not atypical, especially with children in primary and secondary school, to end up with schedules in which both parents have substantial to equal parenting time with their children.
Brian was tenacious in helping me protect my children and was able to uncover our finances to allow us to ultimately reach a fair division of our property and a fair award of support for me and my children.- Megan C.
His work is nothing but extraordinary. What he did for my friend was impossible to even think could be done. Brian did what he would do for his own family.- Yelena B.
His knowledge in a variety of legal aspects is unparalleled. We feel fortunate to have his representation.- Jeff
He made the process of the ordeal as good as it could have been, including the outcome. I would recommend Brian to anyone, who wants an exceptional professional and advocate to represent them in a legal matter.- Former Client
After Brian negotiated my divorce settlement, my ex-husband, surprisingly, delivered the highest compliment, stating "Brian was brilliant."- Barbara
During the past three years Brian helped me through a bitterly contested family law matter.- David
Brian Sobol is methodical in his approach. It takes a long time to move through the family court process but I can sit back now and relax. A highly skilled professional will argue the law and fight for me to see my kids.- Julie M.
I know I won't have need of for Mr. Sobol again. If I did though...Brian Sobol would be the person I would have defend me!- Tammy G.
Children grow and circumstances change. Sometimes this necessitates changes in the parenting schedule or the child's primary residence. Minnesota law provides for the process for presenting requests for changes to the court, and when a court may, and may not make a change. While it is not atypical to request changes to parenting time as a child grows older, the law is stricter when it comes to requests to actually change physical custody. Absent certain circumstances, such as danger to a child or willful interference with parenting time, such changes cannot be made within the first year after the initial establishment of an order or parenting plan, and thereafter, within two years of the last request for modification.
Requests to modify physical custody arise from time to time when one parent needs to move to another state. If a parent with physical custody desires to move, they may not move the child's residence unless the other parent agrees, or the court approves the move. If such requests are contested, the court must determine the children's best interests, applying at least eight factors in determining whether a move is in a child’s best interest. Today in Minnesota, with more and more parents sharing physical custody, it may be a challenge to prevail on a request to move a child out of state.
To learn more about your unique situation, call Sobol Family Law at (866) 484-4079 or fill out the online contact form. Speaking to a knowledgeable Minneapolis child custody lawyer can help clarify a challenging situation.