When a couple shares a one or more children and they decide to no longer be involved with one another, whether they are married or not they often have to walk the windy and sometimes painful road of going through a Minnesota child custody case. In most cases, both parents want to spend as much time as they can with their children, and the thought of being without their loved ones for a period of time can be very emotional. In the end, family courts in the state of Minnesota only consider a situation that is in the best interests of the children involved, regardless of what the desires of each parent are.

What Determines the “Best Interests of the Child” in Minnesota?

When the court system is making a decision in a child custody case, it has an obligation to arrange and enforce a Minnesota child custody agreement that is in the best interest of the child. While the judge has the opportunity to evaluate every factor that lends itself to the child’s wellbeing, he or she will also be given direction from state law, which will determine some of the key factors they must consider.

Child Custody in MinnesotaAt the beginning of the legal proceedings, both parents are considered to have equal rights and responsibilities when it comes to the children involved. While this is true, the judge is not able to base his or her entire decision on a single factor, such as one parent being a primary caregiver, and he or she must consider any and all factors that relate to the child’s upbringing, physical health, mental health and emotional health. When the trial has concluded, the judge is tasked with issuing a written decision explaining which factors were considered to help him or her reach a final decision.

Importance of Health and Safety of the Child

Two factors that are included in the “best interests of the child” are the child’s health and safety, which are primary concerns and areas of focus for the Minnesota state family law court system. Should either parent have a history of abuse or have a mental or physical disability that makes the child living with the parent unsafe, the court takes this matter into deep consideration when making its final decision. Additionally, if there is any history of abuse between either parent and the child or between the parents, it is possible for the judge to not allow visitation with the child.

Importance of the Child’s Developmental and Emotional Needs

In addition to the child’s physical health and safety, the judge also looks into factors related to the child’s developmental and emotional needs. This category includes looking at the relationship between the child and both parents, and if one parent has acted as the primary caregiver or shared that responsibility with the other parent. In some cases, if the Minnesota judge believes the child is old enough and mature enough, it may be possible for him or to state a preference for which parent he or she would like to primarily reside.

Since stability and consistency are highly valued in child custody cases in Minnesota, the court prefers a custody arrangement that allows the child to remain in the same home, as well as the same community and school district in order to continue positive relationships with peers and community members. When considering this arrangement, the judge looks at the length of time the child has been in his or her current environment and how stable that environment is before reaching their final decision in the case.

Child Custody Arrangement Options in Minnesota

“Child custody” in the state of Minnesota is defined using both physical custody legal custody. Physical custody refers to the physical time the child spends with the parent, while legal custody refers to the parents’ involvement and responsibility to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, including medical needs, educational needs, community involvement and, where applicable, religious upbringing. The state of Minnesota prefers to grant joint legal and physical custody whenever possible; that is when signs of abusive behavior are not present.

When considering joint custody in a Minnesota child custody case, the court considers if a joint custody arrangement will be at the detriment to the child as well as what the implications will be if only one parent has the sole authority over the child’s upbringing. It is possible in Minnesota court for the judge to award both parents joint legal custody where they both have the responsibility to make important decisions, but only grant one parent physical custody.

Child Custody Modification in Minnesota

As children grow older and parents’ situations change, there may come a time when modifications to the current custody agreement is needed. Since a Minnesota child custody agreement is a legally binding document, parents need to go through the court system in order to have changes made to their agreement. When both parents agree on a change, it is generally much easier to have the modification approved if the judge finds it to be in the best interests of the child.

Should one parent want a modification that is not supported by the other parent, the requesting parent carries the burden of proving why the modification is needed and how the change will benefit the children. Since consistency and stability are highly valued, courts do not like to make changes to a current custody agreement unless there is an absolute need and an absolute benefit in doing so. This is why having a modification approved can be a long and arduous process in some cases.

Child Custody and Relocation in Minnesota

Relocation requests that pertain to child custody agreements can often be difficult ones for judges to decide on, especially if one parent has primary custody of the child and the other parent is entitled to visitation. Often times, this situation leads to a battle in the court room, especially if the requesting parent is proposing to move the child a distance away from the other parent. Again, the judge will look at a number of different factors surrounding the request, and it will be up to the parent making that request to prove the relocation will be beneficial.

Some of the areas the judge considers include:

  • The reason for the request, which may include:
    • New employment opportunities for the parent
    • Better employment opportunities for the parent
    • Better community/social environment for the child
    • More educational opportunities for the child
    • Better educational opportunities for the child
  • The potential benefits the child could see due to the relocation, which may include:
    • Parent better able to provide for the child
    • Child exposed to better education or health care
  • The other parents reason for contesting the relocation
  • The relationships between the child and both parents

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