January 17, 2020

Minnesota Child Custody Laws: What You Need to Know

Child Custody Laws in MN | Segal Duffek Moen

A child custody dispute is one of the most emotional issues in any divorce. In most cases, ex-spouses eventually come to a mutual agreement about custody. An agreement made with an attorney’s help is the fastest, least stressful way of deciding child custody details.

An agreement is preferable over a protracted court case for many reasons:

  • It avoids a settlement by the court which may not be satisfactory to all parties
  • It allows the parties to move forward in a healthy way for the child’s benefit
  • It eliminates the anxiety and the ongoing expense associated with court hearings
  • It helps reduce emotional strain on the children whose future is being considered


Settlement by Agreement in Minnesota Child Custody Cases

In Minnesota child custody mediation, the goal of the mediator is to help parents reach a mutually beneficial decision about the basic legal and physical aspects of raising the child. The goal should be to develop a plan in the child’s best interests – the same standard used by courts in determining custody.

Types of custody recognized in Minnesota law include:

Physical Custody

Physical custody means one parent holds the right for a child to live with him or her. Sometimes, joint physical custody is possible – especially if the parents live close by. In some cases, it may be possible for a parent with sole physical custody to move away with the child. In Minnesota, the parent making the move is required to get consent from the other. A court order authorizing the proposed relocation can also be used.

child spending time at home drawing

Legal Custody

Legal custody is the right to make major life choices for the child, such as:

  • Decisions about where the child will go to school
  • Decisions about religious identity and participation in services
  • Decisions about physical and psychological healthcare

Although physical custody is often granted to one parent or the other, judges tend to favor joint legal custody. This is so both parents are available to participate in important life decisions for the child.

In a custody agreement, parents don’t generally split up different “decision areas” like health and religion. Instead, they come to an agreement on shared expectations for all these areas. It’s also important to know how to address changes or emergencies in the future.

Sole vs. Joint Custody

The combination of sole physical and legal custody of a child is becoming rare. The non-custodial parent generally has ample visitation rights, called Parenting Time in Minnesota. When designing a custody agreement, both parties should agree on timing, location, and other details of visits. They should also plan for special situations and annual events, like the winter holiday season.

How Do Minnesota Judges Resolve Child Custody Cases?

When making a child custody agreement, the parties have all the options they would have in a court-ordered agreement. The attorney’s role is to help them recognize points of contention, lay issues out in a structured way, and facilitate the journey to mutual agreement. Ultimately, all decisions rest with the two parents. It’s their custody agreement.

If settlement by agreement is not possible, it’s important to know what factors may go into deciding custody in court. Every case is different, and you should only make decisions based on personalized advice from qualified legal counsel.

That said, here are some important things to note:

The Child’s Best Interest is Key

Minnesota child custody laws empower the judge to use his or her discretion in determining the best interests of the child. “Best interests” is a multi-faceted idea balancing many different parts. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • The nature and quality of the child’s relationship with each parent
  • Which parent has been the primary caregiver of the child to date
  • The child’s age and physical, educational, and emotional needs
  • The general quality of life offered to the child by each parent

The child’s preference can also be considered, but it is not always decisive. The opinion of an older, more mature child generally carries more weight than that of a younger child. All in all, a judge must make a difficult decision about trust – which parent can be trusted to better care for the child.

Many People Have Outdated Ideas about Custody

Many people might assume sole custody is commonly granted to the mother, while the father’s rights are limited to visitation and providing child support. While this might have been broadly true at one time, things have changed. The child’s best interest is central, but it is better determined by the parents, not a judge. Outdated ideas about custody can cause issues during court cases.

At the law offices of Segal Duffek Moen, our child custody experts help clients achieve agreements that work. Contact us today to learn how we can help.

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