Custody in Minnesota is divided into two categories:
- Legal custody is the right to determine the “big issues” in a child’s life: his or her education, religion, and healthcare.
- Physical custody is the right to make decisions about the daily activities of a child: his or her day to day care, such as who picks her up from school, what will she eat for lunch, what time does she have to be in bed.
Minnesota Courts use what is known as the “best interests standard” in determining custody in contested cases. Minnesota statutes section 518.17 sets forth 13 different factors to be considered and evaluated by a court:
- the wishes of the child’s parent or parents as to custody;
- the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference;
- the child’s primary caretaker;
- the intimacy of the relationship between each parent and the child;
- the interaction and interrelationship of the child with a parent or parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
- the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community;
- the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
- the permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home;
- the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; except that a disability, as defined in section 363A.03, of a proposed custodian or the child shall not be determinative of the custody of the child, unless the proposed custodial arrangement is not in the best interest of the child;
- the capacity and disposition of the parties to give the child love, affection, and guidance, and to continue educating and raising the child in the child’s culture and religion or creed, if any;
- the child’s cultural background;
- the effect on the child of the actions of an abuser, if related to domestic abuse, as defined in section 518B.01, that has occurred between the parents or between a parent and another individual, whether or not the individual alleged to have committed domestic abuse is or ever was a family or household member of the parent; and
- except in cases in which a finding of domestic abuse as defined in section 518B.01 has been made, the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child.
In addition, when any type of joint custody (either physical or legal custody) is sought by either party, the Court must consider an additional 4 factors:
- the ability of parents to cooperate in the rearing of their children;
- methods for resolving disputes regarding any major decision concerning the life of the child, and the parents’ willingness to use those methods;
- whether it would be detrimental to the child if one parent were to have sole authority over the child’s upbringing; and
- whether domestic abuse, as defined in section 518B.01, has occurred between the parents.
Under Minnesota law, there is a rebuttable presumption of joint legal custody when either of the party requests it. This means that there is a presumption that parents will share legal custody of their joint children, BUT that this presumption may be overcome by evidence showing that joint legal custody does not serve the best interests of the children.
Many people confuse their right to parent their children with their children’s rights to be parented in a way that serves their best interests. Minnesota law looks strictly at what type of custody arrangement serves the child’s best interests. High conflict parents who fail to work cooperatively when resolving disputes about their children may not be good candidates for joint custody.