As you’re considering or going through a divorce, or dealing with any situation involving the potential change of guardianship for a child, you may be grappling with the concept of child custody. This complex legal term often leaves people feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about what’s next.
Today, we’ll dive into the specifics of child custody determinations and the guiding principle of the best interest test, shedding light on how these factors influence the court’s decision.
The Two Types of Child Custody
Before delving further, it’s important to understand that ‘custody’ isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept. In Minnesota, as in many other states, child custody is divided into two distinct types: physical custody and legal custody.
When we talk about physical custody, we’re referring to the child’s place of residence. In other words, where will the child live? This aspect of custody deals with the child’s day-to-day life, their primary living situation, and who they will stay with most of the time.
Legal custody, on the other hand, involves decision-making responsibilities for the child. This can encompass a broad range of issues, from medical decisions to educational choices. In Minnesota, the presumption leans towards joint legal custody, meaning that both parents will typically have a say in these significant decisions.
How Is Custody Determined in Minnesota?
When physical custody is an issue to be determined by the court, the “best interest test” is employed. This test uses 12 factors that the court will evaluate, either through the testimony of the parties involved or a custody evaluator. The aim here is to ensure that the child’s wellbeing is prioritized above all.
The 12 Best Interest Factors
These factors are designed to offer the court comprehensive insight into the child’s life and the role each parent plays. Let’s break down some of these factors:
- Physical, emotional, cultural and spiritual needs of a child: Evaluates the child’s physical, emotional, cultural, and spiritual needs, and how the proposed custody arrangements might affect their overall development.
- Special medical, mental health or educational needs of a child: Takes into account any unique medical, mental health, or educational needs of the child, and how these needs may influence the parenting arrangements.
- Reasonable preference of a child: Considers the child’s preference, provided the court finds the child has the ability, age, and maturity to express an independent, reliable opinion.
- Domestic abuse: Assesses the presence, nature, and context of domestic abuse, along with its implications for the child’s safety, well-being, developmental needs, and parenting.
- Physical, mental health or chemical health issues of a parent: Evaluates the impact of any parent’s physical, mental, or substance-related health problems on the child’s safety and development.
- History and nature of care: Assesses each parent’s history in providing care for the child, not to compare parents but to understand how the child’s needs have been previously met.
- Ability of parents to reliably meet the needs of a child going forward: Considers each parent’s ability and willingness to consistently provide ongoing care that meets the child’s diverse needs in the future.
- Effect on a child of changes to home, school and community: Examines the effects of significant changes in the child’s home, school, and community on their well-being and development.
- Effect on significant relationships of a child: Takes into account how proposed arrangements might influence the child’s ongoing relationships with parents, siblings, and other important figures in their life.
- Benefit to a child in maximizing time or detriment to a child in limiting time: Evaluates the pros and cons for the child of maximizing or limiting parenting time with each parent, with the goal of benefiting the child on a case-by-case basis.
- Disposition of parents to support relationship with the other: Except in cases involving domestic abuse, this assesses each parent’s willingness to foster and maintain the child’s relationship with the other parent.
- Ability of parents to cooperate in rearing their child: Consider the parents’ ability and willingness to cooperate in raising their child, sharing information, minimizing the child’s exposure to conflict, and resolving major life decision disputes.
Each of these factors is carefully weighed and balanced to make a decision that is in the child’s best interests.
The Outcome of Child Custody Determinations
After the court reviews the 12 best interest factors, a decision is made regarding who will have physical custody and the schedule for the child. This process ensures that the child’s needs and wellbeing are at the forefront of the custody determination, making it as fair and beneficial to the child as possible.
Get Your Child Custody Questions Answered By CJB Law
In the whirlwind of a divorce or custody battle, understanding the landscape of child custody determinations can offer a sense of clarity and control. The best interest test is a powerful tool to ensure the child’s welfare, guiding the court’s decision to achieve a result that prioritizes the child’s wellbeing. If you find yourself in a situation where custody is a point of contention, remember the principles we’ve discussed today. The focus is, and always should be, on securing the best possible outcome for the child. Contact CJB Law today to work with one of our child custody lawyers.