While the vast majority of child custody matters settle out of court, as a parent, you should know how Minnesota divorce law guides family court judges when they must decide a custody dispute. The primary consideration in all custody matters is the best interests of the child.
To determine what those interests are in a specific case, the law states that the judge “must consider and evaluate all relevant factors.” The statute specifically includes 12 such factors:
- The child’s needs (physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual and more) and the effect a proposed custody arrangement would have on those needs, along with the child’s development
- Whether the child has any special educational, mental health or medical needs
- If the child is of sufficient age, ability and maturity to give an independent, reliable opinion, the child’s stated preferences
- Whether either or both parents have committed domestic violence
- Any physical, mental, or chemical health issues one or both parents have that would affect their child’s safety or developmental needs
- The extent and nature of the history of each parent’s care of the child
- Each parent’s willingness and ability to provide ongoing care to the child
- How any proposed changes to the child’s home, school and community would affect them
- The effect, if any, on the child’s relationships with their parents, siblings and other significant people in their lives
- The benefit to the child in maximizing parenting time with both parents, and the detriment
- The willingness of each parent to support the child’s relationship with the other parent and encourage and permit “frequent and continuing” contact with the other parent, except in cases of domestic violence
- The parents’ willingness and ability to be cooperative co-parents
While these are the main concerns in a Minnesota child custody dispute, this list is not exhaustive. Any other factors within the judge’s discretion might contribute to their final decision.