When married parents with minor children file for divorce or legal separation, the court must resolve several issues related to each parent’s rights and responsibilities. One such issue is child custody. There are two types of child custody in Minnesota: legal custody and physical custody.
Both physical and legal custody is determined based on an evaluation of the “best interests” of the child(ren) in question. According to MN Stat § 518.17, there are 12 factors under consideration in this evaluation.
Here, we will give an overview of physical and legal custody, explaining how Minnesota courts make decisions about each. We will also discuss how courts allot parenting time.
Legal Custody in Minnesota
Per MN Stat § 518.003, “legal custody” means a parent’s right to make crucial decisions regarding their child(ren)’s upbringing, including school enrollment, healthcare, and religion.
Sole Legal Custody Versus Joint Legal Custody
Legal custody may be the exclusive right of one parent (”sole legal custody”) or shared by both parents (”joint legal custody”).
Joint legal custody requires parents to share equally in the legal decision-making process for their minor child(ren). A parent with sole legal custody can make decisions for their child(ren) without requesting permission from or notifying the other parent.
One or both parties may request joint legal custody. Minnesota custody law instructs the court to presume that, absent any history of domestic abuse between the parents, it is in the best interests of the child(ren) to grant such a request.
If domestic abuse has occurred, however, the court must instead operate under the rebuttable presumption that joint legal (and physical) custody is not in the best interests of the child(ren). “Rebuttable” means that joint legal custody may still be granted, following an evaluation of the domestic abuse and its implications for the child(ren)’s safety, development, and well-being.
If the court finds one parent unfit for legal custody, it will grant sole legal custody to the fit parent.
Physical Custody in Minnesota
“Physical custody” refers to a parent’s right to make caretaking decisions and provide a home for their child(ren).
Sole Physical Custody Versus Joint Physical Custody
The distinction between sole and joint custody also applies to physical custody. Joint physical custody requires parents to divide responsibility for their child(ren)’s routine daily care, control, and place of residence. However, this division does not have to be a 50-50 split.
To determine legal custody, a Minnesota court must use a rebuttable presumption that joint physical custody is not in the best interests of the child(ren) if documented domestic abuse has occurred between the parents.
In all other cases, the court is not instructed to presume for or against sole versus joint physical custody and will decide based on the 12 best interest factors.
Parenting Time Arrangements
Parenting time is the time each parent is entitled to spend with their child(ren). In custody proceedings, the court may establish a parenting time arrangement per MN Stat § 518.175 . As with custody, the court must weigh the 12 best interest factors when determining parenting time.
In some cases, the court gives parents “reasonable parenting time,” meaning they leave the parents to set their co-parenting plan.
If either parent requests that parenting time be divided according to a set schedule, the court must devise such a schedule, to which the parents are subsequently expected or required to comply.
Even if the court grants one parent sole physical custody, the other parent (i.e., the “noncustodial parent”) may be awarded parenting time. Generally, the noncustodial parent is entitled to a minimum of 25% of the total parenting time, unless there is evidence to suggest that this would not be in the best interests of the child(ren). In the latter case, the court can limit parenting time, disallow overnight visits, or require that visits be supervised.
The custodial parent may not deny parenting time without a change to the parenting time order, except in circumstances where the noncustodial parent poses an immediate threat to the custodial parent or child(ren).
We Are Here for You
The legal process of divorce is often complicated and emotionally fraught, and custody cases are no exception. Legal and physical custody, and sole versus joint custody, are all convoluted legal concepts—if trying to parse them makes you feel overwhelmed, you are not alone. To speak with a legal expert about your upcoming Minnesota custody case, contact CJB Law today.