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Hansen v. Todnem

Supreme Court of Minnesota

March 14, 2018

Birch Benjamin Hansen, Appellant,
v.
Suzanne Christine Todnem, Respondent.

         Office of Appellate Courts Court of Appeals

          Thomas B. James, Law Office of Thomas B. James, Cokato, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Suzanne C. Todnem, Saint Paul, Minnesota, pro se.

          Joseph Field, Field Law, P.A., Ramsey, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Center for Parental Responsibility.

         SYLLABUS

         1. District courts are not required to make specific, detailed findings on each of the best-interest factors listed in Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a) (2016), when considering requests to modify parenting time under Minn. Stat. § 518.175, subd. 8 (2016).

         2. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant's request for additional child-care parenting time.

         Considered and decided by the court without oral argument.

          OPINION

          McKEIG, Justice.

         Appellant Birch Hansen ("Hansen") and respondent Suzanne Todnem ("Todnem") established a parenting plan for their son, K.T., on July 24, 2015. On August 3, 2015, Hansen moved in the Ramsey County District Court for additional parenting time to provide before- and after-school child care for K.T. while Todnem was working. The district court denied Hansen's request on the ground that it was not in K.T.'s best interests. Hansen appealed, arguing that the district court failed to make detailed and specific findings on each of the factors listed in Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a) (2016) ("the best-interest factors"), and relied on improper factors to assess K.T.'s best interests. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that Hansen's request for child-care parenting time was an "insubstantial" modification and thus did not require detailed and specific findings on every best-interest factor. We affirm the court of appeals, though on different grounds.

         FACTS

         The parties in this case were in a romantic relationship for roughly 5 years, but never married. On September 1, 2010, the parties had their son, K.T. Shortly after K.T.'s birth, Todnem ended the relationship.

         Through mediation with a parenting consultant, the parties established a parenting time schedule that gave Hansen parenting time on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, as well as three overnights at his home and four co-parenting overnights at Todnem's home every 2 weeks. On February 2, 2014, however, Todnem informed Hansen that he was no longer welcome in her home for co-parenting overnights. Instead, Todnem offered Hansen a fourth overnight at his home with K.T. every 2 weeks. Hansen petitioned the Ramsey County Family Court for joint custody and equal parenting time on February 5, 2014.

         The parties stipulated to joint legal and physical custody with equal parenting time on March 18, 2015. After 4 months of negotiation with multiple mediators, the parties submitted a written parenting plan for the court's approval. The district court approved the parenting plan on July 24, 2015. Only 10 days later, Hansen moved for additional parenting time to provide child care for K.T. before and after school on Todnem's parenting days. Todnem opposed this motion, preferring to use K.T.'s school's child-care program, the Discovery Club, for before- and after-school care.

         The district court denied Hansen's request. Finding that Hansen had not explained why he did not seek child-care parenting time during 4 months of mediation, the district court expressed concern that Hansen was trying to "end run" the parenting time agreement. Moreover, the district court concluded that Hansen's proposal was not in K.T.'s best interests, finding that the proposed arrangement would continue ongoing conflict between Hansen and Todnem, increase the number of transitions for K.T., and deprive K.T. of a predictable schedule if Hansen was ever unavailable to provide before- or after-school care.

         On appeal, Hansen argued that the district court's decision was based on irrelevant or repealed factors, and that the district court erred by failing to make detailed findings on the newly amended best-interest factors listed in Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a) (2016). Relying on Funari v. Funari, 388 N.W.2d 751 (Minn.App. 1986), the court of appeals held that "[m]ere clarifications" and "insubstantial modifications" of parenting time fell entirely within the discretion of the district court and did not need to be supported by specific findings. Hansen v. Todnem, 891 N.W.2d 51, 58 (Minn.App. 2017) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court of appeals acknowledged the 2015 amendment to Minn. Stat. § 518.17 (2016), but held that the amendment did not abrogate the common-law distinction between substantial and insubstantial parenting-time modifications. Id. ...


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