Big changes have occurred in family law this most recent legislative session. One of the key changes involves a revamped “best interest of the child” standard for custody and parenting time disputes in divorce and paternity cases. One key amendment involves the the court to examine the benefit of “maximizing” parenting time with both parents.

Jason and Cynthia Brown, founders of the firm, are regular contributors to the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper. The recently published an article concerning the amended best interest factors.

They wrote:

Some have called it “the most significant overhaul to family law in Minnesota in decades.” That may be a bit of an overstatement; many of the provisions currently in place have survived legislative scrutiny, and have reappeared with new lingo. Still, the new statute certainly deserves significant attention.

Here are those new factors:

  • A child’s physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and other needs, and the effect of the proposed arrangements on the child’s needs and development;
  • Any special medical, mental health, or educational needs that the child may have that may require special parenting arrangements or access to recommended services;
  • 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;
  • Whether domestic abuse, as defined by statute, 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;
  • Any physical, mental, or chemical health issue of a parent that affects the child’s safety or developmental needs
  • The history and nature of each parent’s participation in providing care for the child;
  • 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;
  • The effect on the child’s well-being and development of changes to home, school, and community;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • Except in cases in which domestic abuse as described [above] 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 other parent; and
  • 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.

The Browns conclude:

What started as a veto of legislation that would have created a parenting time presumption of 35% has developed into a complete overhaul of the custody and parenting time factors in Minnesota. We’ve seen some radical shifts in the definition of marriage over the last few years, based on changing norms. It now appears that the other side of marriage, i.e., dissolution statutes is catching up with the last 40 years worth of social science, in focusing on child development, conflict avoidance, and the importance of both parents in the life of a child.