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What factors do judges consider when making child custody decisions?

For many couples, the determination of parental rights is the most important issue to be dealt with in the context of divorce. The assignment of custody and parenting time can be the source of a great deal of contentiousness, though, and when couples are not able to come up with an arrangement on their own, a court needs to step in to make a decision for them.

In Minnesota, judges handling custody disputes are given broad discretion in determining a suitable custody arrangement. At the heart of the decision is the consideration of what is in the best interests of the child. Under Minnesota law, the term best interests refers to all the factors relevant to a child's health and general well-being. 

Some of the factors listed in the Minnesota statute are: the child's current adjustment to his home, school and community as well as his ability to adjust to a new environment; the mental and physical health of both the child and each parent; the preferences of the child where he is old enough to voice a reasonable opinion; and the occurrence of child abuse as well as false accusations of child abuse.

In custody cases where the parents are seeking joint legal or physical custody, courts additionally take into account the parents' respective ability to cooperate with one another and resolve disputes regarding a child's upbringing, the impact of having one parent as the primary authority, and the occurrence of domestic abuse.

The best interests standard, as can be seen, is rather broad in its application, and it isn't easy to predict how a judge will come down in any given case. For parents, it is important to work with an experienced attorney who is able to ensure that the issue of best interests is fairly considered and not hijacked by what are really the interests of a competitive spouse. 

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