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Effective Aug. 1: Revamped best interest of the child analysis p2

We are continuing our discussion of the law change that took effective Aug. 1. Senate Bill 1191 reshapes how Minnesota courts approach child custody decisions. The differences may seem small, but they reflect a more modern understanding of family dynamics, children's relationships with their parents, and a family's experience with the court system. The focus in custody decisions is still the best interest of the child. The new law recognizes that we are well past the days of Ward and June Cleaver and Ozzie and Harriet.

In our last post we reviewed some of the changes to the list of best interest factors that courts must consider in custody decisions. The new list shortens the list of factors from 13 to 12, but the statute still requires the court to look at all factors together, giving none priority over the other.

The 12th factor requires that the court assess whether the parents will support the child's ongoing relationship with the other parent and whether they will cooperate with one another on issues related to the child. The Michigan case we discussed in our posts earlier this month shows what happens when parents do not agree. The case also shows the challenges a court faces in trying to manage these situations.

At one time, courts granted custody to the mother almost automatically. Minnesota law addressed this by instructing courts not to presume that the child's primary caretaker would be a better parent. The new law actually requires the court to start its analysis with the understanding that both parents are capable of sustaining a positive, nurturing relationship with the child (unless the court has reason to believe otherwise).

The new law also makes it clear that a parent's physical or mental impairment is not any more important than the other factors. And, the law asserts that joint physical custody does not mean a 50/50 split.

The last item we want to touch on -- though by far not the only remaining part of the new law -- is compensatory parenting time. Minnesota courts may now grant compensatory parenting time in cases where one parent has repeatedly and intentionally violated the court-approved agreement.

If you have questions about your own situation and whether the new law will affect your parenting time agreement, please consult with a family law attorney.

Source: Minnesota Legislature: House Research Act Summary of Chapter 30, Session 2015, Mary Mullen, May 12, 2015

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