Child Custody in Minnesota: Change is Coming

Custody defined

Minnesota law recognizes two types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody.

  • Legal custody. Legal custody refers to the "right to determine the child's upbringing, including education, health care, and religious training." Legal custody can be sole or joint. Joint legal custody means the parents have "equal rights and responsibilities" with respect to determining the child's upbringing.
  • Physical custody. Physical custody refers to the "routine daily care and control and the residence of the child." The physical custody label isn't limited to the sole or joint designations and parents may make an agreement as to what to label their physical custody arrangement. This does not prohibit the use of the terms "sole" or "joint" with regard to the physical custody designation. Joint physical custody means that the "routine daily care and control and the residence of the child is structured between the parties." The term "custodial parent" or "custodian" refers to the party "who has the physical custody of the child at any particular time." "Parenting time" refers to "the time a parent spends with a child regardless of the custodial designation regarding the child."

Minn. Stat. § 518.003 (2015).

Best interests of the child standard

In Minnesota child custody cases, for the initial determination of custody and parenting time the court is guided by the "best interests of the child" standard. Under this standard, the court considers "all relevant factors" when deciding child custody cases. Recent legislation goes into effect on August 1, 2015, modifying the factors for the best interest analysis. The Relevant factors the court is required to consider per the new legislation include:

(1) a child's physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and other needs, and the effect of the proposed arrangements on the child's needs and development;

(2) any special medical, mental health, or educational needs that the child may have that may require special parenting arrangements or access to recommended services;

(3) the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient ability, age, and maturity to express an independent, reliable preference;

(4) whether domestic abuse, as defined in section 518B.01, has occurred in the parents' or either parent's household or relationship; the nature and context of the domestic abuse; and the implications of the domestic abuse for parenting and for the child's safety, well-being, and developmental needs;

(5) any physical, mental, or chemical health issue of a parent that affects the child's safety or developmental needs;

(6) the history and nature of each parent's participation in providing care for the child;

(7) the willingness and ability of each parent to provide ongoing care for the child; to meet the child's ongoing developmental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs; and to maintain consistency and follow through with parenting time;

(8) the effect on the child's well-being and development of changes to home, school, and community;

(9) the effect of the proposed arrangements on the ongoing relationships between the child and each parent, siblings, and other significant persons in the child's life;

(10) the benefit to the child in maximizing parenting time with both parents and the detriment to the child in limiting parenting time with either parent;

(11) except in cases in which domestic abuse as described in clause (4) has occurred, the disposition of each parent to support the child's relationship with the other parent and to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent; and

(12) the willingness and ability of parents to cooperate in the rearing of their child; to maximize sharing information and minimize exposure of the child to parental conflict; and to utilize methods for resolving disputes regarding any major decision concerning the life of the child.

In evaluating all relevant factors, the court is not allowed to "use one factor to the exclusion of all others," and the court is required to produce "detailed findings on each of the factors... and explain how each factor led to its conclusions and to the determination of custody and parenting time."

Minn. Stat. § 518.17 (2015).

Relevant standards of which parents seeking joint legal or physical custody should be aware

There is no presumption for or against joint physical custody, but the court shall use a rebuttable presumption that upon request of either or both parties, joint legal custody is in the best interests of the child. However, in cases of domestic abuse is proven the court shall use a rebuttable presumption that joint legal custody or joint physical custody is not in the best interests of the child. Disagreement alone over whether to grant sole or joint custody does not constitute an inability of parents to cooperate in raising their children. In applying the best interest factors, the court shall not consider conduct of a party that does not affect the party's relationship with the child.

Minn. Stat. § 518.17 (2015).

Contact a child custody lawyer

Attorneys at Dougherty, Molenda, Solfest, Hills & Bauer P.A., can answer your questions about child custody and other Minnesota family law matters. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.