Minnesota Custody and Parenting Time Disputes – Who is involved?

If there is a dispute in Minnesota over custody and parenting time, the court will likely order the parties to undergo some sort of "evaluation." "Evaluation" is a fluid term, and can mean a variety of things. To understand the "evaluation" itself and the process you will have to undertake, you must understand the different types of players who may be assigned to your case. The most commons types of "evaluations" and the professionals who conduct them are set forth below. Your particular case may include only one of these individuals or many.

1. Minnesota Custody and Parenting Time Evaluations: A custody and parenting time evaluation is usually conducted by the county's court services department or by a private evaluator. For example, cases in Hennepin County are usually referred to Hennepin County Family Court Services, where an evaluation is conducted by an employee of that department. In other counties, such as Dakota, evaluations are usually conducted by private individuals who contract with the parties for their services.  Read about Hennepin County Custody and Parenting Time Evaluations.

The evaluation process consists of an investigation and the issuance of written recommendations by the evaluator. Generally the process will last anywhere from 3 to 7 months, dependant in large part on where your case is venued and the issues presented in each case. Costs for court appointed evaluations usually range from $1,000.00 to $3,000.00[1], again dependent upon which county your case is venued as well as the issues presented to the evaluator.

At the end of the evaluator's investigation, a report along with recommendations will be issued. The report will comment on each of the statutory factors and will end with recommendations with respect to custody and parenting time. Given the particulars of the case, additional recommendations may be included, such as a recommendation for a party to attend anger management or undergo a chemical dependency assessment.

For more detailed information about the custody and parenting time evaluations, go to my article entitled: Minnesota Custody and Parenting Time Evaluation.

2. Minnesota Guardian Ad Litem: A "GAL", as they are commonly known, generally is appointed when there are allegations of physical or emotional abuse or some sort of maltreatment. Usually found in cases when there are serious allegations of wrongdoing by a party, a guardian is appointed to represent the interests of the children. Their turnaround time for issuing a report is generally much quicker than a custody evaluator. The statute concerning Guardians Ad Litem sets forth specific duties of the guardian. They are as follows:

A guardian ad litem shall carry out the following responsibilities:

  1. Conduct an independent investigation to determine the facts relevant to the situation of the child and the family, which must include, unless specifically excluded by the court, reviewing relevant documents; meeting with and observing the child in the home setting and considering the child's wishes, as appropriate; and interviewing parents, caregivers, and others with knowledge relevant to the case;
  2. Advocate for the child's best interests by participating in appropriate aspects of the case and advocating for appropriate community services when necessary;
  3. Maintain the confidentiality of information related to a case, with the exception of sharing information as permitted by law to promote cooperative solutions that are in the best interests of the child;
  4. Monitor the child's best interests throughout the judicial proceeding; and
  5. Present written reports on the child's best interests that include conclusions and recommendations and the facts upon which they are based.

For more detailed information about Guardians Ad Litem, go to my article entitled: Minnesota Guardian Ad Litem.

3. Minnesota Parenting Time Expeditor: If you have persistent and significant disputes over parenting time, the court may appoint a parenting time expeditor to your case. A "PTE", as it is also known, is unique in that he or she has the authority to make a binding decision concerning parenting time by which both parties must abide. Some of the important aspects of the statute are below:

What is the actual purpose of a PTE? "The purpose of a parenting time expeditor is to resolve parenting time disputes by enforcing, interpreting, clarifying, and addressing circumstances not specifically addressed by an existing parenting time order and, if appropriate, to make a determination as to whether the existing parenting time order has been violated. A parenting time expeditor may be appointed to resolve a onetime parenting time dispute or to provide ongoing parenting time dispute resolution services." (Excerpt from MInn. Statute 518.1751.)

What can a PTE do for me and my children? "A parenting time expeditor shall attempt to resolve a parenting time dispute by facilitating negotiations between the parties to promote settlement and, if it becomes apparent that the dispute cannot be resolved by an agreement of the parties, the parenting time expeditor shall make a decision resolving the dispute." (Excerpt from Minn. Statute 518.1751.)

Utilization of a PTE can prove to be much less expensive than court action, and the parties can have a dispute resolved much more quickly than through the regular court process.

For more detailed information about parenting time expeditors, go to my article entitled: Minnesota Parenting Time Expeditors.

4. Parenting Consultants: In some situations, a Minnesota parenting consultant gets involved on a "one time" issue or a series of issues affecting the parties. Typically, the parties' attorneys draft an agreement that sets forth the "powers" and duties of the parenting consultant. In that agreement, the PC's roles are defined and the PC has the ability to make a binding decision on a particular issue. If a party does not agree with a particular decision, he or she must then "appeal" that decision to the District Court.

Parenting consultants deal with a wider variety of issues than parenting time expeditors. A PC can decide issues concerning parenting time, religious instruction, or school choice. The parties give them the "power" to decide. Generally speaking, a dispute can be resolved by a PC much more quickly than a District Court Judge. Also, a dispute can be resolved in a much less costly fashion. Lastly, for the most part, parties walk away from the PC with the feeling that their case was given the "personal" attention it needed.

Is a PC right for your case? It depends. Make sure you and your Minnesota divorce attorney discuss the pros and cons of your particular situation to see if a PC is a good choice.

For more information on Minnesota custody and parenting time, or any other family law related issue, contact Christopher M. Banas at 651-492-1069.

[1] It must be understood that costs can exceed this amount, as all cases are different and the actual cost will be set forth in the contract entered into by the parties and the evaluator.