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Legislative Update (July 31, 2015)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Dear Neighbor,

Beginning August 1, new family law reform proposals will take effect. For the past several years, I’ve been working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to reform child custody standards.

During the 2012 Legislative Session, a bipartisan package of family law reforms passed both the House and the Senate. Unfortunately, Governor Dayton issued a “pocket veto” – an action that kills legislation by letting it sit without a signature for 14 days after the legislature has adjourned for the two-year period – of this reform package. The governor asked for more collaboration between opposing sides so that more consensus could be built around changes to child custody standards.

I’m pleased to report that after many years of hard work, we were able to bring stakeholders together and enact family law reforms that were acceptable to all involved. These reforms, which will take effect in August, include:

  • Enacting new best interest factors that require the court to look at how relevant information would impact the child.

  • Easing the process for third parties to review custody orders to know what rights parents have by moving Appendix A, which contains notices regarding a parent’s right to access children’s records and information, into the body of the order.

  • Clarifying that there is a presumption that a parent get a minimum of 25% parenting time.

  • Strengthening protections for a parent who is denied court-ordered parenting time by the ex-spouse by requiring the court to order compensatory parenting time, unless the denial/interference was necessary to protect the child’s emotional or physical health.

  • Giving parties the right to modify spousal maintenance agreements where the parties originally agreed to limited spousal maintenance by giving courts jurisdiction to make changes to these to the agreements. Prior law, called a Karon waiver, said that these types of agreements block later modification and that the courts no longer have jurisdiction to make those changes.

  • Reforming the way Tax Dependency Credits are awarded to parents by providing clearer guidance for State Courts who award the exemptions. Under federal tax law, the parent with more than 50% parenting time is entitled to claim the child as a dependency exemption. The other parent, however, can claim the exemption if the primary custodial parent signs an IRS waiver. As a part of dissolution orders, State Courts have the authority to award dependency exemptions.

  • Granting parties the right to modify child support agreements by allowing courts to accept the agreement if the parties come to the agreement voluntarily.

  • Lowering the interest rates on family court judgments to help parents avoid potential hardship by allowing the court to consider a lower interest rate in certain circumstances. In family law cases, interest on judgments can compound quickly and put the parties in a difficult situation. This provision allows the court to order a lower interest rate, or no interest rate, if the parties agree or to avoid potential hardship to the debtor. This does not apply to child support our spousal maintenance obligations.

  • Enacting new law to protect military parents in cases of child custody by ensuring they are not penalized for their service in cases of deployment.

  • Requiring the courts to prepare a certificate of dissolution in addition to a divorce decree to make it easier for ex-spouses to do certain things such as change their name.

If you would like to read the new law itself, you can do so by clicking here.

As always, you can contact me by e-mail at Rep.Peggy.Scott@House.MN or call my office at 651-296-4231. You can also send me mail to my office address: 437 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155.