A common question is: “Since I’m paying child support, I’m automatically entitled to parenting time with my kids, right?” The frustrating answer for many parents is: no; simply paying child support does not automatically grant a parent the right to parenting time with his or her children.

Under Minnesota law, when a child is born to an unmarried mother, the mother automatically has full legal and physical custody of the child. Minn. Stat. § 257.54. Even if the father signs a Recognition of Parentage and is on the birth certificate, this does not grant the father any rights to custody or parenting time.

To obtain parenting time and custody, a father must petition the court to establish his rights. If the mother and father are not living together, and especially if the mother or child are receiving public benefits, the mother and/or the county can initiate a child support case against the father. While this can start the process to establish parenting time and custody, parenting time is based on the “best interests” of the child, not whether a father is paying child support.

The “best interest factors” are found in Minn. Stat. § 518.17 and include the child’s physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and other needs, the history and nature of each parent’s participation in providing care for the child, and the willingness of each parent to provide ongoing care for the child, as well as the willingness of parents to cooperate in rearing the child. Paying voluntary support (meaning there is no court order) to the child’s other parent also does not grant a parent the right to parenting time with his or her child. Thus, it is entirely possible for a parent to be ordered to pay child support, yet have no parenting time with his or her child.

For children born to married parents, both parents automatically share custody of the children. Parenting time and child support are determined through a divorce proceeding and the same best interest factors apply in determining the parenting time schedule.

On the flip side, failing to pay child support when court-ordered to do so cannot serve as the only reason to reduce, limit, or stop court-ordered parenting time with that parent. Minn. Stat. § 518.175. Thus, if a parent stops paying child support, that alone is not enough for the other parent to stop allowing parenting time with the child. Instead, parenting time can only be reduced if the court finds that parenting time with a parent is likely to endanger the child’s physical or emotional health or impair the child’s emotional development. If the obligor parent stops paying support, the parent receiving child support can file a motion with the Court to find that the other parent is “in contempt,” meaning that he or she is violating a court order. Failure to pay child support has significant consequences, including:

  • Suspension of the obligor’s driver’s license;
  • Suspension of a hunting and/or fishing license;
  • Denial of a United States passport;
  • Interception of tax refunds;
  • Jail time and/or being charged with a crime

If a parent denies the other parent court-ordered parenting time, the parent denied parenting time can also file a motion with the court to find that the other parent is in contempt and to ask the Court for help in enforcing the parenting time schedule.

If you have any questions about child support, parenting time, or custody, the attorneys at Wilson Law Group are experienced in representing both custodial and non-custodial parents. Call 612-436-7100 for a free consultation.