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In re Custody of M.J.H.

Supreme Court of Minnesota

June 20, 2018

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

          Office of Appellate Courts Court of Appeals

          Michael P. Boulette, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Charles H. Thomas, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc., Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Julia Craig, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc., Mankato, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Ben M. Henschel, Henschel Moberg Goff, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and David L. Olson, Edina, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

          Sarah J. Runchey, Runchey, Louwagie & Wellman, Marshall, Minnesota; Mary Catherine Lauhead, Law Offices of Mary Catherine Lauhead, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Michael D. Dittberner, Linder, Dittberner, Bryant & Winter, Ltd., Edina, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Family Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

         SYLLABUS

         1. When determining whether a motion to modify parenting time is a de facto motion to modify physical custody for purposes of deciding whether the endangerment standard in Minn. Stat. § 518.18(d)(iv) (2016) applies, a court should consider the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the proposed modification is a substantial change that would modify the parties' custody arrangement.

         2. Respondent's motion is a de facto motion to modify physical custody; therefore, the endangerment standard in Minn. Stat. § 518.18(d)(iv) (2016) applies to his motion.

         Reversed.

          OPINION

          HUDSON, Justice.

         The issue before us is whether the best-interests-of-the-child standard in Minn. Stat. § 518.175, subd. 5(b) (2016), or the endangerment standard in Minn. Stat. § 518.18(d)(iv) (2016), applies to the motion of respondent Eric John Christensen to increase his parenting time to every other week. Christensen and appellant Danielle Marie Healey are the parents of a minor child. The parties stipulated to an initial order that granted Healey sole physical custody, subject to Christensen's parenting time. Several years later, the parties agreed to assign the child's primary residence to Healey and to increase Christensen's parenting time. During the school year, Christensen had parenting time every other weekend, and during the summer months, the parties alternated weeks with the child. In 2016, Christensen brought a motion to expand the alternating week schedule to the entire year. The district court determined that Christensen's motion was a motion to modify physical custody, and that the modification would change the child's primary residence. Accordingly, the district court applied the endangerment standard in Minn. Stat. § 518.18(d)(iv). Because the district court found that Christensen did not present a prima facie case of endangerment, the court denied his motion.

         The court of appeals reversed, holding that Christensen's motion was not a motion to modify custody and that the proposed modification would not change the child's primary residence based merely on the percentage of parenting time requested. Because we conclude that Christensen's proposed modification is a de facto motion to modify physical custody, and therefore the endangerment standard applies, we reverse.

         FACTS

         Healey and Christensen are the parents of a minor child who was born in 2010. The parties were never married but Christensen was adjudicated as the biological father. Healey lives in Minnesota and Christensen lives approximately an hour away in Iowa. In 2011, a stipulated order granted joint legal custody to both parties and sole physical ...


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