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Child custody arrangements can be complex and emotionally charged. When a judge makes an initial child custody order, they try to create a plan that is in the child’s best interests based on the circumstances at the time.

However, as children grow up, family situations change. For various reasons, the original custody order may no longer be appropriate or workable. In these cases, a judge may modify the existing custody order.

There are several common reasons why a family court judge will change an existing child custody order. Understanding these reasons can help parents know when and how to request a custody modification appropriately.

The Legal Standard for Modifying a Child Custody Order in MN

A child custody order is not set in stone. It can be subject to modification if there are significant changes in the child’s circumstances or the parents. The key word here is significant. A modification of a child custody order will never be made on the fly or simply because of one parent’s preferences.

For a family law judge to change custody, under Minn. Stat. 518.18, the parent requesting the change must prove:

  • A substantial change in circumstances has occurred since the previous order
  • The current custody arrangement endangers the child or impairs their development
  • Modification of custody is necessary for the child’s best interests

What is the “Best Interest Standard”?

When considering a request to modify custody, the judge must determine if the proposed changes are in the child’s best interests.

Factors considered include:

  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • Adjustment to home, school, and community
  • The health, safety, and welfare of the child
  • The parents’ preferences

The court will weigh the potential benefits against any harm caused by disrupting the child’s living situation.

When Can You Modify a Child Custody Order?

Minnesota sets time limitations on when parents can request child custody modifications to prevent constant court battles. Generally, neither parent can file a motion to modify custody within one year of the original decree. This encourages parents to give a new custody arrangement time to work before seeking changes.

Additionally, if a motion to modify custody has been filed and ruled on, neither parent can file another motion within two years of the decision on that motion. So, there must be a gap of at least two years between custody modification requests, even if the prior request was denied.

Exceptions – When Modification Can Happen Sooner

There are exceptions where Minnesota judges can order custody changes sooner than one or two years if certain urgent factors are present.

These include:

  • Endangerment to the Child — The court can modify a prior custody order at any time if the child’s physical or emotional health is endangered in their current home environment, their current custody situation impairs the child’s emotional development, and the benefits of modification outweigh any harm from changing the child’s living situation.
  • Denial of Parenting Time — If one parent persistently and willfully denies or interferes with the other parent’s scheduled parenting time, the 2-year restriction does not apply. The court can order a change.
  • Agreement by Both Parents — If both parents agree in writing to modify custody, the court can approve changes anytime.

What Does It Take for a Judge to Change Custody?

Judges understand that consistency and stability are important for children. They will not change custody arrangements lightly. However, if circumstances have changed substantially, the court will act to protect the child’s interests.

Here are some of the most common reasons a Minnesota judge may decide to change an existing child custody or parenting time schedule.

Parental Relocation a Significant Distance Away

If the custodial parent plans to move out of state or far enough away that it would burden the other parent, judges may view this substantial distance as grounds to change custody arrangements.

This prevents uprooting children from their community and support systems. For example, if a custodial parent plans to move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, the other parent in Minneapolis may be awarded physical custody so the child can remain in the same school.

Severe Impairment of a Parent’s Capabilities

If a parent develops a substantial health problem that critically impacts their ability to properly care for the child long-term, such as a severe mental illness or major physical disability, judges may decide the child’s interests are better served by changing custody to the other parent.

For instance, if one parent becomes paralyzed and can no longer physically care for and transport a young child without major assistance, custody may be modified.

Clear Endangerment of the Child

If remaining with the custodial parent is clearly detrimental to the child’s physical or mental well-being due to abuse, neglect, or other endangerment, the judge will likely change custody to keep the child safe.

Chronic Defiance of Parenting Time Schedule

If the custodial parent chronically and substantially denies court-ordered parenting time between the child and other parents, judges can view this as grounds for a change in custody. Refusing to allow the child to visit the other parent per the court’s decree, despite having no good reason, maybe grounds to lose custody for ignoring the child’s right to time with the other parent.

Ultimately, it’s within the court’s discretion to modify custody. However, if the requesting parent can show a significant change, they may have a fighting chance at having the order awarded.

How to Request Child Custody Modification in MN

If you want to change your existing child custody order in Minnesota, here are a few steps you can take:

  1. Understand the Legal Standard — You have the burden of proof to show the court that there has been a “substantial change in circumstances” that makes the current custody arrangement harmful or unworkable for the child. Examples include moving, changes in the mental/physical health of a parent or child, or custody interference.
  2. Get Legal Help — Consult a Minnesota family law attorney to ensure you meet the modification standard and to get help completing the proper paperwork. Attorneys can advise if you have grounds to modify.
  3. File the Motion — File a Motion to Modify Child Custody form with the court that issued your original custody order. This starts the modification process.
  4. Propose a New Schedule — Detail your proposed new custody arrangement, including physical custody, legal custody, parenting time, and holidays. Be as specific as possible.
  5. Provide Documentation — Supply supporting records like medical reports, proof of relocation, or affidavits from teachers and doctors.
  6. Prepare Your Case — If the other parent contests, be ready to mediate or have an evidentiary hearing. Show why the change is in the child’s best interest.
  7. Attend Court Hearings — Go to all scheduled hearings. Bring evidence and witnesses supporting the proposed changes.
  8. Know the Timing Rules — Custody can’t be changed within one year of the last order or two years of the last modification request unless the child is in danger or there is custody interference.

The court will not grant a modification lightly. The requesting parent must demonstrate proper grounds and back each claim with concrete evidence.

Our team at Martine Law is very familiar with Minnesota custody law and the local courts and can assess your case, gather supporting evidence, and build a strong argument for modification.

Our Minneapolis child custody lawyers have years of experience helping Minnesota parents through contested custody disputes. We offer guidance and vigorous legal advocacy to achieve the best interests of your child. Contact us today for a consultation.