Minnesota lawmakers overhaul child custody factors

In Minnesota, just like every other state nationwide, legal decisions about child custody issues have their basis in the same question: What is in best interest of the child? However, while the question is always the same, each state has its own way of finding the answer. Lawmakers in Minnesota recently enacted changes that substantially affect how child custody determinations are made in the state.

Factors guide judges in determining the best interests of the child

The new child custody law in Minnesota provides a new and updated list of 12 factors that must be considered when determining the child's best interests. In the past, Minnesota family courts used a different list of 13 factors, with an additional four that were considered only in cases involving joint custody. The new factors are applied in all cases, regardless of whether the parents are seeking joint or sole custody.

Some considerations that were previously included in the list have been modified or omitted altogether, while others have been newly introduced. For example, while the old law included the preferences of a parent as one factor to be considered, the new list instructs judges instead to evaluate how a parenting plan proposed by a parent would affect the child's needs and development. This change shifts the focus of how judges evaluate parental requests for particular parenting arrangements.

Promoting healthy relationships with both parents

Compared with the old list, the newly revised factors focus more explicitly on the child's relationship with both parents and keeping those relationships stable, nurturing and safe. Family court judges are instructed to consider how the child would benefit from maximizing the time spent with both parents as well as the detriment of restricting the time he or she spends with either parent.

The statute states that parents are presumed capable of sustaining nurturing relationships with their children unless there is substantial cause for believing otherwise. Circumstances that could potentially provide such cause include substance abuse, domestic violence, criminal activity and severe mental illness, among others.

The new child custody law also contains language directing judges to recognize the wide array of individual and cultural parenting styles, reminding them that there are many different ways to parent effectively and provide children with the love, support and guidance they need.

Legal advice for divorcing parents

To learn more about the new child custody law in Minnesota and what it could mean for your family if you are considering divorce, contact the experienced family law attorneys at Berg, Debele, DeSmidt & Rabuse, P.A.