In 2015, the Minnesota legislature modified the language in Minnesota Statute Section 518.17 which discusses the best interests of the child. Judges in dissolution, custody and parenting time matters must determine what is in the best interests of the child when deciding custody labels and the amount of time a child spends with each parent.

To decide custody and parenting time in your case, the judge’s task is to determine what arrangement is in the best interest of your children.

There is a Minnesota law, Minnesota Statute Section 518.17, that defines how the judge makes that determination. First, the judge has to start with a couple of assumptions about parents and parenting time:

1) that it is almost always in the child’s best interests to have both parents involved in his or her life, and 2) that, in most cases, both parents are capable to develop nurturing relationships with their children, unless there are substantial reasons to believe otherwise.

Next, the judge must apply the “best interests” factors. In 2015 the Minnesota legislature modified the best interest factors listed in Section 518.17. Under the new version of the best interest test, a judge needs to ask all of the following questions about proposed parenting time and custody arrangements:

1) What arrangement best serves the child’s physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual or other needs? How do the proposed arrangements affect the child’s needs and development?

2) Does the child have any special medical, mental health, or educational needs? Do these special needs require a specific type of parenting arrangement? Does the parenting and custody arrangement need to be customized to make sure that the child can access recommended services?

3) If the child is old enough and mature enough to express an “independent, reliable preference,” what are the child’s wishes?

4) Has there been domestic abuse between the parents, or in either parent’s separate household? To what extent? In what context? What does that abuse mean for each parent’s ability to provide a safe and healthy home where the child can thrive and develop?

5) Do either of the parents have any physical, mental, or chemical health issues? What do those issues mean for that parent’s ability to provide a safe and healthy home where the child can thrive and develop?

6) How much has each parent contributed, so far, to the care of the child? What kind of care has each parent contributed?

7) How willing and how able is each parent to provide ongoing care for the child? How willing and able is each parent to meet the child’s ongoing developmental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs? How willing and able is each parent to maintain consistency and follow through with the parenting time schedule?

8) If a proposed arrangement would change the child’s home, school, or community, how would those changes affect the child’s well-being and development?

9) How would the proposed arrangement affect the child’s relationship with each parent? With the child’s siblings? With other significant persons in the child’s life?

10) How much benefit would the child get from having the most time possible with both parents? How much would the child be harmed by an arrangement that would restrict time with one parent or the other?

11) How likely is one parent to support the child’s relationship with the other parent? How likely is one parent to encourage and permit frequent contact between the child and the other parent? Note that this consideration does not apply in situations where domestic abuse has occurred.

12) How willing and able is each parent to cooperate in caring for and raising their child? How willing and able is each parent to share information with the other parent and to minimize exposing the child to conflict between the parents? How willing and able is each parent to resolve disputes about major decisions about the child?

In the judge’s consideration of these factors, the judge cannot rely on any one specific factor. Instead, the judge must consider all of the factors, including how they may be related. Also, the judge cannot consider any conduct by one of the parents that does not affect that parent’s relationship with the child.

If your custody or parenting time issue goes before a judge, you will need to provide evidence and arguments related to each of these factors, to support the custody or parenting time arrangement you believe is in the best interest of your child. Cooper Law can help you craft a persuasive case to ensure that your children’s custody and parenting time arrangement truly has their best interests in mind. Apply now using our online intake form and an attorney will contact you to discuss how we can assist you in your child custody or parenting time case.