What’s the Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody in Minnesota?

custody2The phrase “custody” is used to describe the obligations, and rights, of parents regarding the care of their children.

Child custody issues come about when an unmarried couple has a child together, or when married parents get a divorce.

The two types of child custody in Minnesota are physical custody and legal custody.

Legal custody involves a parent being able to make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing and well-being (religion, education and healthcare).

Physical custody is the type of custody that a parent has when the children live primarily with them. It involves the day to day care of a child.

Parents can have joint legal custody, which means both parents have a say in the upbringing of the child. If there is a dispute, the court can intervene in order to settle the conflict.

With joint physical custody, children typically (but not always) split their time with both parents.

If a parent is awarded sole physical custody, the non-custodial parent will be granted visitation (now referred to as a more politically correct “parenting time” award). A schedule will be established. For instance, a child may live with dad, but visit mom on weekends.

In some cases, sole legal custody is granted, but those awards are rare (typically reserved for situations in which there is a history of domestic abuse among the litigants). When both parents are in the picture, the court prefers that they are equally involved in making important decisions for the child.

Podcast: Establishing Physical & Legal Custody Under Minnesota’s Best Interest Standard

In this edition of The Family Law Show, we offer an overview of the standards Minnesota judges use in determining the physical and legal custody of children.

Custody is an emotionally-charged issue, with a lot of uncertainty for parents and kids.

Topics in this podcast include the difference between physical custody and legal custody, joint custody as compared to sole custody, the “best interest of the child” factors and the key facts judges look toward in making custody decisions.

Run Time: 12:52

Click to Listen[hr]

Child Custody Standard In Minnesota: Best Interest Of The Child

There are two types of custody in Minnesota: physical and legal. A parent may receive sole or joint custody. A non-custodial parent will likely receive an award of parenting time. The “best interests of the child” governs these issues.

In examining the best interests of a child, the Court will examine 13 criteria, including:

  • The wishes of the child’s parent or parents as to custody;
  • The reasonable preference of the child as to custody, 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 of a proposed custodian or the child shall not be determinative of the custody of the child, unless the proposed custody 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 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
  • The disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child.

Legal custody grants a parent the right to have a role in the educational, medical and religious decisions made on behalf of a child. There is a presumption in Minnesota that parents should be granted joint legal custody. This presumption may be overcome, however, by demonstrating that such an award does not serve the best interests of a child (if, for example, a parent experiences significant mental illness or has played no role in the life of a child).

Physical custody refers to the day to day physical location of children. The presumption in Minnesota is that one parent should have sole physical custody and the other should be awarded an appropriate amount of parenting time with the children. This presumption may be overcome, however, by demonstrating that such an award does not serve the best interests of a child – usually by showing that the parents have each played a significant role in a child’s upbringing, get along relatively well, communicate respectfully with one another, have no history of domestic abuse and intend to remain living in close proximity (within the same school district) of one another. Some judges are much more open to an award of joint physical custody than others.

If one parent is awarded sole physical custody of a child, the other will typically receive an award of parenting time. Very often, such an award involves spending time with the children every-other weekend, one or two evenings per week, half of all holidays and non-school days during the academic year, and a number of weeks of uninterrupted vacation time during the summer months.