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In re Custody of M. J. H.

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

July 3, 2017

In the Matter of the Custody of M. J. H.,
v.
Danielle Marie Healey, Respondent. Eric John Christensen, petitioner, Appellant,

         Martin County District Court File No. 46-FA-10-1106

          John A. Warchol, Warchol Law Offices, PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Julia Craig, Law Offices of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc., Mankato, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Considered and decided by Bjorkman, Presiding Judge; Hooten, Judge; and Reyes, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         I. When a parent's proposed modification of parenting time would result in the parents having equal or nearly equal parenting time, the district court errs by treating the proposed modification as a change in a child's primary residence solely based on the apportionment of parenting time.

         II. In determining whether a proposed modification of parenting time would constitute a change in a child's primary residence, the district court should consider not only the apportionment of parenting time under the proposed modification, but also the child's other relevant attachments to each parent's place of residence and the impact of the modification on those attachments.

          OPINION

          HOOTEN, Judge

         Appellant father challenges the district court's denial of his motion to modify parenting time. Although appellant characterized his motion as only a request for equal parenting time or, in the alternative, increased parenting time, the district court nonetheless construed his request as a motion to change physical custody and the child's primary residence. Reasoning that both of these types of relief require the moving party to show that the child is endangered in the child's current custodial arrangement, the district court denied appellant's request for equal parenting time on the ground that appellant failed to assert a prima facie case of endangerment. Because the district court erred by determining that appellant's request was necessarily a motion for a change in physical custody and the child's primary residence and because the district court erred by failing to make sufficient findings regarding appellant's alternative request for increased parenting time, we reverse and remand.

         FACTS

         Appellant Eric John Christensen and respondent Danielle Marie Healey are the parents of one minor child, born in 2010. In a stipulated June 2011 order, the district court awarded joint legal custody to the parties, sole physical custody to Healey, and parenting time to Christensen. In April 2015, due to the child starting school, the parties agreed to amend the 2011 order. The resulting order provided that during the school year the child would reside primarily with Healey and that Christensen would have parenting time every other weekend. The order also stated that the parties would alternate weeks with the child during the summer. The parties do not dispute that the child's primary residence was with Healey after the 2015 amendment.

         In 2016, Christensen moved to modify parenting time to equal parenting time by extending the alternating week schedule to the entire calendar year. Alternatively, Christensen requested an increase in the amount of his parenting time to something less than equal parenting time during the school year. Notwithstanding Christensen's assertion that he was not seeking to modify physical custody or the child's primary residence, the district court determined that Christensen's request for equal parenting time was a request for joint physical custody and would change the child's primary residence. As a result, the district court applied the endangerment standard provided by Minn. Stat. § 518.18(d)(iv) (2016). The district court concluded that Christensen had not made a prima facie case of endangerment and denied his request for equal parenting time. The district court did not specifically address Christensen's alternative request for increased parenting time. Christensen appeals.

         ISSUES

I. Did the district court err by treating Christensen's request for equal parenting time as a motion to modify physical custody and to change the child's primary residence?
II. Did the district court err by failing to sufficiently analyze Christensen's alternative request for ...

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