Minnesota’s New Custody Statute and the Best Interest Factors

Posted by Tentinger Law Firm

In making custody determinations in Minnesota, courts are required to determine the custody arrangement that is in the the best interests of the child.  Courts consider a number of statutory factors in making this determination, which are referred to as the best interest factors.

Beginning August 1, 2015, a new custody statute with new best interest factors for custody determinations went into effect in Minnesota.  The goal of the new best interest factors is to focus less on the rights of the parents and which parent is better and focus more on the needs of the child and how to meet those needs given the reality of divorce.

The new best interest factors for the Court to consider in making custody determinations are as follows:

1) The child’s physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and other needs, and the effect of the proposed arrangement on the child’s needs and development;

2) Any special medical, mental health, or educational needs that the child may have that require special parenting arrangements or access to recommended services;

3) The reasonable preferences 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 [Minnesota Statute] 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 the proposed arrangement on the ongoing relationship 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.

In addition to the new best interest factors, the new custody statute also includes nine principles or cannons of construction.  For example, courts must make detailed findings on each of the best interest factors based on the evidence presented, explain how each factor led to its conclusions and to the determination of custody and parenting time and may not use one factor to the exclusion of others.

Another of these principles or cannons of construction provides that the court shall consider that it is in the best interests of the child to promote the child’s health growth and development through safe, stable, nurturing relationships between a child and both parents.

While this stops short of creating a presumption for joint custody as has been advocated for by some, it does appear to favor the involvement of both parents in the child’s life.  It remains to be seen whether the new custody statute will dramatically affect how courts make custody determinations in Minnesota.

Because of the fact-specific nature of custody cases and the multiple factors involved in making custody determinations, it is important to talk to an experienced custody attorney.  To speak with an experienced custody attorney, contact Tentinger Law Firm at 952-953-3330 or use our quick contact form.