A recent case from the Minnesota Court of Appeals is a warning to parents who interfere with parenting time or alienate a child from another parent. Watch out because your behavior could result in a change in custody.

You may have heard stories of a parent with custody who will do just about anything to stop the other parent from having time with the kids. In a case decided by the Minnesota Court of Appeals on August 13, 2018, a dad found himself in that very situation.

How can custody be changed under Minnesota law?

Before we go into the details of the case, let’s take a look at Minnesota law about how to change custody. In order to win on a request to change custody, Minnesota law typically requires a parent to show that the parent with custody is endangering the child.

Endangerment is a high standard to meet. It requires more than just a few unchanged diapers or a major sunburn in a parent’s care. Endangerment is, like, child protection level bad behavior by a parent where the child is going to be seriously injured or damaged physically or emotionally by a parent. It has to be real harm, not speculation that the children might be or could be harmed.

This recent Minnesota Court of Appeals case helps to expand the definition by addressing situations where a parent alienates or withholds children from the other parent.

What are the facts in this case?

Meet the dad – Ismael Amarreh. He was a PhD level guy with a great job. Ismael also had two children and a wife, Hamida Amarreh. Ismael and Hamida got divorced in 2011 in Wisconsin when their son was 8 and daughter 6.

Ismael and Hamida were awarded joint legal custody of the children. Ismael was also awarded parenting time with the children while Hamida had primary custody. In 2014, Ismael moved to Washington, DC for work and in 2016 Hamida moved to Minnesota.

In 2017, Ismael brought a motion to change custody based on Hamida’s interference with his parenting time. Ismael alleged that Hamida has moved to two different cities and a new state without notifying him. He claimed that Hamida had denied him any contact with the children for eight months.

Ismael also claimed that Hamida did not include him in decision-making about the children as required by the joint legal custody designation. When Ismael tried to get information about the children from their schools and medical providers, he discovered Hamida had blocked him from getting the information.

Overall, the evidence looked like Hamida had worked hard to exclude Ismael from his children’s lives.

What did the court decide?

In Minnesota, you first start a family law case in the lowest level of court which is called the District Court. If you don’t like a decision that is made by a judge in District Court, you can appeal it to the Court of Appeals.

In the case of Ismael and Hamida, the District Court judge decided that Ismael had not proven that the children were endangered by his claims. The District Court judge said that even if Hamida had withheld the children like Ismael said, it was not endangerment.

The judge was overruled by the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals held that “substantial interference” with a parent-child relationship amounts to child endangerment and could result in a change of custody. The case was sent back to the District Court for an evidentiary hearing so that Ismael could present his evidence. If he can prove that what he claimed about Hamida’s behavior is true, he may get custody of his children.

Conclusion

So what did we learn from the story of Ismael and Hamida?

  1. If you do not have custody of your child(ren), make sure you at least have a court order that gives you a parenting time schedule.
  2. If you have custody of your children and there is a parenting time schedule, follow it. If you feel that the schedule is harmful to your children, use the legal system to try and change the schedule rather than doing it by yourself.
  3. If you have a court order for parenting time and your parenting time is being withheld from you, document it. And if it is an ongoing thing, get legal help.

The Court of Appeals did not define what “substantial interference” is when it comes to parenting time.

Case reviewed: In re the Matter of: Hamida Ismael Amarreh v Ismael G. Amarreh, Minn.Ct.App. (A18-0198, August 13, 2018)

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