PLYMOUTH, Minnesota — After a three-year fight and $150,000 in legal fees, a Plymouth father was awarded a path to equal parenting time with his two children.
“When I read that order it was probably the biggest day of my life,” said Scott Vogel.
In the June 20 ruling, Hennepin County family court referee Jason Hutchinson wrote ". . .these children deserve to have the opportunity to experience the love and care from both their parents.”
KARE 11 featured Vogel’s story in May, and it sparked an outcry of complaints with the child custody and parenting time system in cases of divorce or separation.
Vogel was engaged to the mother of their two children, but before the wedding the couple split apart.
Unable to agree on a schedule for the kids, Vogel took their case to court hoping to get more than the four nights-a-month with his son and two nights-a-month with his daughter.
In a court-ordered custody and parenting time evaluation, the evaluator found no issues with physical, mental or chemical health from either parent and found both parties “willing and highly capable of providing care for the children.”
Yet, the evaluator recommended giving Vogel his son 34% of the time and his daughter 25% of the time without explaining the reason for the schedule.
Currently in Minnesota, both parents have a presumptive baseline of 25 percent parenting time with their children. Most often, parents work out the remaining 50 percent on their own, but if they can't a judge decides it for them.
There are 12 factors evaluators must look at in determining what's in the best interest for the child.
However, according to one of the only studies of its kind in Minnesota looking at divorce cases from seven counties, the average parenting time for dads was 36 percent.
“Every lawyer or expert I've talked to, or even the judges, start with the assumption that you are not getting 50-50,” Vogel said in May.
Vogel and the mother of their children went to trial where the court referee heard arguments from both sides. For months he’s waited for the judge’s final decision.
Ultimately, the referee weighed three scheduling proposals from Vogel, the mother, and the custody evaluator against the 12 best interest factors for the kids.
Hutchinson wrote, “In short, [Vogel] argues strongly (and credibly) that what is “developmentally appropriate” may not be “one size fits all.” And the Court finds [Vogel] is correct in this argument – the Court is tasked with evaluating what is in the best interests of these children, based on these parents.”
Hutchinson said a gradually changing schedule over the next 7 months will lead to full equal parenting time by February.
“The key piece of the order was it came out very clearly that we are both loving and fit parents and the kids need both of us. I have no regrets going through that process and spending that kind of money, but it's sad that I was forced to,” said Vogel.
KARE 11 reached out to the judge who co-signed the case, but she declined to comment on the ruling.
Vogel supports a movement to change Minnesota law so that parents are given a rebuttable presumption of equal parenting time from the start for parents who qualify.
Opponents of that proposal, including the Minnesota State Bar Association, feel that approach is not the best idea for each case.