Hiring the right Minnesota custody lawyers can make all the difference. There is little doubt that child custody disputes are the most complex and emotionally charged facets of a divorce or break up. The resolution of custody issues typically serves as a gateway to resolving the remaining parts of a divorce.
The good news is that there are a number of processes available to help the parties reach an agreement. Sometimes agreement is reached early in a case through early neutral evaluation, well in other circumstances a custody evaluation is undertaken.
Regardless of how your matter is resolved, the same standard applies to evaluators, mediators and the judge. The best interest of the child will be deemed paramount. There are 12 statutory factors that any neutral or decision maker must consider in rendering an opinion concerning legal custody, physical custody or parenting time. The Minnesota custody lawyers you hire should be well aware of those standards.
The relevant Minnesota custody statute provides that in “evaluating the best interests of the child for purposes of determining issues of custody and parenting time, the court must consider and evaluate all relevant factors,” including:
General Needs of Child
The first best-interest factor involves “a child’s physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and other needs, and the effect of the proposed arrangements on the child’s needs and development.”
This broad factor focuses specifically on the unique needs of each child. Modified several years ago, this standard addresses all facets of child development. The critical element in this factor surrounds an ability to articulate the uniqueness of a child and discuss what makes them tick. That, coupled with examples of how you have the ability to meet the child’s needs, will be addressed by the court or evaluator.
Special Needs of Child
The second best-interest factor involves “any special medical, mental health, or educational needs that the child may have that may require special parenting arrangements or access to recommended services.”
This is a relatively narrow factor. The judge or evaluator will be interested in learning about any specific and unique school or medical issues a child my face. This includes things like an individual education plan, food allergies, unique dietary needs, or other ailments that require attention beyond the norm.
The third best-interest factor involves “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.”
As a Minnesota custody lawyers, we are asked about the age at which a child gets to decide their own fate. There is no such age or rule. However, as children enter their teen years their opinions begin to carry greater weight in terms of the ultimate outcome in a custody case. However, that opinion must be free of influence from either parent. Even if a child tells an evaluator that they want to live with one parent or another, great scrutiny and discount will be placed on the expressed preference if it is obvious that they are being coached by a parent.
The fourth best-interest factor involves “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.
This factor takes into account the fact that there is a wide spectrum of conduct which may be described as abusive. The court or evaluator will be most interested to learn about situations that have arisen that were serious enough in nature to warrant the involvement of law enforcement or an order for protection. Still, neither are a prerequisite to consideration of past acts of violence or threatening behavior.
Health of Parent
The fifth best-interest factor involves “any physical, mental, or chemical health issue of a parent that affects the child’s safety or developmental needs.”
This factor focuses on the health and well-being of each parent. From the standpoint of physical health, the overarching question is whether a parent is physically capable of caring for a child despite a particular ailment. Our Minnesota custody lawyers find that many are concerned about their own history of mental illness. The question is not whether an individual suffers from depression or some other illness. Rather, the key inquiry is whether a particular ailment impacts one’s ability to care for a child. Finally, substance abuse issues are taken into account.
The sixth best-interest factor involves “the history and nature of each parent’s participation in providing care for the child.”
This factor involves a breakdown of the role each party has played in the upbringing of a child. The common list includes things such as preparation of meals, grocery shopping, purchasing clothing, arranging for social interaction, bedtime routine, taking children to medical appointments, assistance with homework, attending school conferences, and bathing and grooming. The focus of the court or evaluator will be historical, rather than in the present. In other words, the decision maker is interested in learning about the division of labor from the time the child was very young.
Ability to Parent
The seventh best-interest factor involves “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.”
This factor involves a very practical question. Is a parent capable of caring for a child and meeting their needs? It addresses not only the emotional maturity of the parent, but also their work schedule or other commitments that interfere with time that they may otherwise be at home. For example, suppose a parent works overnights. It will be impractical for that parent to receive an award of equal parenting time given the fact that they are physically unable to care for the child during their requested time. Talk with with our Minnesota custody lawyers to discuss your unique circumstance.
Changes for Child
The eighth best-interest factor involves “the effect on the child’s well-being and development of changes to home, school, and community.”
This factor places emphasis on the child’s sense of his or her surroundings. The court or evaluate her will consider the impact that any proposed schedule will have on a move into a new neighborhood or school. Those who remain in the marital residence with the children should have little difficulty with this factor. However, if a move is proposed, care must be taken in conveying to the judge or evaluator the benefits of the move.
The ninth best-interest factor involves “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.”
This factor focuses on extended family. The decision maker will take into account the role that other significant adults have played in the life of a child, including siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Because the court is interested in maintaining as much stability as possible for a child, continued involvement with these important individuals will be scrutinized.
The tenth best-interest factor involves “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.”
This factor considers the pros and cons of dividing parenting time equally. It’s a balance between trying to afford each parent as much time as possible, while still meeting the needs of a child.
Supporting Other Parent
The 11th best-interest factor provides that “except in cases in which domestic abuse 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.”
This factor examines each parent’s attitude toward the other as it relates to a child. The decision maker is concerned about ensuring that there is a healthy level of encouragement instilled in a child to spend time with, and love, the other parent.
Cooperation of Parents
The 12th best-interest factor involves “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.”
This factor addresses how long the parties get along with each other. Cooperation is crucial to effective co-parenting. If the court or evaluator determined that one parent is unwilling to cooperate with the other, it will work against them. Decision makers expect the complex will arise in the future, but they also expect that parents will have some ability to work things out in a mature way.
In balancing the 12 best interest factors discussed above, the decision-maker is also required to consider an additional nine criteria in applying those factors.
First, “the court must make detailed findings on each of the factors in paragraph (a) based on the evidence presented and explain how each factor led to its conclusions and to the determination of custody and parenting time. The court may not use one factor to the exclusion of all others, and the court shall consider that the factors may be interrelated.”
It is important to keep in mind that the court will take a comprehensive view of the situation into account and making a custody determination. All 12 factors will be considered in concert with one another. Some are concerned that the other parent has taken on the greater share of care-taking duties. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the level of care afforded to a child during their upbringing is just one of the factors for consideration.
Second, “the court shall consider that it is in the best interests of the child to promote the child’s healthy growth and development through safe, stable, nurturing relationships between a child and both parents.”
This facet of the statute attempts to dispel with the notion that a child fares best in the care of one parent over another. Social science has evolved over the last 40 years. It wasn’t that long ago that decision makers thought very differently about what was best for a child.
Third, “the court shall consider both parents as having the capacity to develop and sustain nurturing relationships with their children unless there are substantial reasons to believe otherwise. In assessing whether parents are capable of sustaining nurturing relationships with their children, the court shall recognize that there are many ways that parents can respond to a child’s needs with sensitivity and provide the child love and guidance, and these may differ between parents and among cultures.”
This statutory requirement recognizes that adults have different parenting styles. Effort is made to require the judge or custody evaluator to keep in mind that their own perspective concerning parenting may not mirror those who appear before them. Tolerance for the many ways that an individual may parent differently is expected.
Fourth, “the court shall not consider conduct of a party that does not affect the party’s relationship with the child.”
This is a very important element to keep in mind. So often our Minnesota custody lawyers are contacted by a potential client who wishes to disparage or criticize the other parent for things that, frankly, have nothing to do with parenting. We are left to explain that the only conduct the court is concerned about involves actions that have a direct impact upon a child.
Fifth, “disability alone, as defined in section 363A.03, of a proposed custodian or the child shall not be determinative of the custody of the child.
This standard provides for a non-discriminatory approach to determining whether an individual, despite a disability, is it capable parent.
False Abuse Claims
Sixth, “the court shall consider evidence of a violation of section 609.507 in determining the best interests of the child.”
This facet of the statute is aimed at discouraging parents from filing false claims of child abuse. The general impression that we get from judges is that they expect that a child will have, as a matter of right, a relationship with each parent. An attempt by the other to tarnish that relationship based upon false allegations could result in an award of custody in favor of the accused parent.
Lack of Presumption
Seventh, “there is no presumption for or against joint physical custody, except in cases involving domestic abuse.”
This element stems from significant changes that were made to the custody and parenting time statutes in 2015. Because there is no presumption either way, both parents may feel empowered to make their claim for either sole or joint physical custody. It has been the experience of our Minnesota custody lawyers that judges now take the position that joint physical custody and equal parenting time are appropriate, unless there is some really good reason not to order as such.
Labels and Time
Eighth, “joint physical custody does not require an absolutely equal division of time.”
Minnesota’s custody statute has done away with any notion that an award of joint physical custody requires equal parenting time. Similarly, recent caselaw suggests that parents can share equal parenting time despite the fact that one parent has sole physical custody. The labels have become far less meaningful in recent years.
Finally, “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, the court shall use a rebuttable presumption that joint legal custody or joint physical custody is not in the best interests of the child if domestic abuse, as defined in section 518B.01, has occurred between the parents. In determining whether the presumption is rebutted, the court shall consider 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. Disagreement alone over whether to grant sole or joint custody does not constitute an inability of parents to cooperate in the rearing of their children.”
This part of the statute reiterates and brings into perspective the seriousness with which the court system treats situations involving domestic abuse.
We hope you find this summary useful. Our lawyers have been recognized among the top Minnesota custody lawyers. If you have further questions about child custody or any other facet of a parenting dispute, you are welcome to reach out to our attorneys. Call (763) 783-5146 or complete the online consultation form to the right.