Custody consists of physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody designates which parent controls the routine daily care of the child and where the child lives most of the time. Legal custody is the right to make important decisions in a child’s life, including education, health care and religious training.
A court determines child custody based upon the best interests of the children. The Minnesota statutes provides thirteen “best interest” factors for the court to consider when deciding custody. The factors are:
(1) a child’s physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and other needs, and the effect of the proposed arrangements on the child’s needs and development;
(2) any special medical, mental health, or educational needs that the child may have that may require special parenting arrangements or access to recommended services;
(3) the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient ability, age, and maturity to express an independent, reliable preference;
(4) whether domestic abuse, as defined in section 518B.01, has occurred in the parents’ or either parent’s household or relationship; the nature and context of the domestic abuse; and the implications of the domestic abuse for parenting and for the child’s safety, well-being, and developmental needs;
(5) any physical, mental, or chemical health issue of a parent that affects the child’s safety or developmental needs;
(6) the history and nature of each parent’s participation in providing care for the child;
(7) the willingness and ability of each parent to provide ongoing care for the child; to meet the child’s ongoing developmental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs; and to maintain consistency and follow through with parenting time;
(8) the effect on the child’s well-being and development of changes to home, school, and community;
(9) the effect of the proposed arrangements on the ongoing relationships between the child and each parent, siblings, and other significant persons in the child’s life;
(10) the benefit to the child in maximizing parenting time with both parents and the detriment to the child in limiting parenting time with either parent;
(11) except in cases in which domestic abuse as described in clause (4) has occurred, the disposition of each parent to support the child’s relationship with the other parent and to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent; and
(12) the willingness and ability of parents to cooperate in the rearing of their child; to maximize sharing information and minimize exposure of the child to parental conflict; and to utilize methods for resolving disputes regarding any major decision concerning the life of the child.
The court is not permitted to give any factor more weight than the others. Minnesota law presumes that joint legal custody is in the best interest of the minor child. However, if there has been domestic abuse, then the law presumes that joint legal custody is not in the best interest of the minor child.
Regardless of the final custody determination, each parent has the right of (1) access to, and to receive copies of, school, medical, dental, religious training, and other important records and information about the minor children; (2) access to information regarding health or dental insurance available to the minor children; (3) the right to be informed by school officials about the children’s welfare, educational progress and status, and to attend school and parent-teacher conferences. However, the school is not required to hold a separate conference for each parent. The court may waive these rights only if it makes specific findings.