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 thirteen factors are:
- The wishes of the child’s parent or parents as to custody;
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express a preference;
- The child’s primary caretaker;
- The intimacy of the relationship between each parent and the child;
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with a parent or parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
- The child’s adjustment to home, school and community;
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
- The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home;
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved; except that a disability, as defined in section 363.01, of a proposed custodian or the child shall not be determinative of the custody of the child, unless the proposed custodial arrangement is not in the best interest of the child;
- The capacity and disposition of the parties to give the child love, affection, and guidance, and to continue educating and raising the child in the child’s culture and religion or creed, if any;
- The child’s cultural background;
- The effect on the child of the actions of an abuser, if related to domestic abuse, as defined in section 518B.01, that has occurred between the parents; and
- Except in cases in which a finding of domestic abuse as defined in section 518B.01 has been made, the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with 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.
When either parent is seeking joint physical custody, the court must also consider the following factors:
- The ability of parents to cooperate in the rearing of their children;
- Methods for resolving disputes regarding any major decision concerning the life of the child, and the parents’ willingness to use those methods;
- Whether it would be detrimental to the child if one parent were to have sole authority over the child’s upbringing; and
- Whether domestic abuse, as defined in section 518B.01, has occurred between the parents.
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.