Child Custody in Minnesota and the Best Interests Factors

September 14, 2011 - by Eric Anderson

The court's ultimate concern in a custody dispute is to do what is best for the child.  It's the guiding principal behind all custody determinations.  In making an initial custody determination, the Court looks to the 13 "best interests" factors contained in Minn. Stat. Section 518.17, subd. 1.  Note that once custody has been established, a different standard applies if a party wants the court to modify custody at a later date. 

The "best interests of the child" means all relevant factors to be considered and evaluated by the court including:

  1. The wishes of the child's parent or parents as to custody.
  2. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express a preference.
  3. The child's primary caretaker.
  4. The intimacy of the relationship between each parent and the child.
  5. 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.
  6. The child's adjustment to home, school, and community.
  7. The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
  8. The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. The child's cultural background.
  12. 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 a parent and another individual, whether or not the individual alleged to have committed domestic abuse is or ever was a family or household member of the parent.
  13. 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.

If joint legal or physical custody of a child is sought, then the court will look to four additional factors contained in Minn. Stat. Section 518.17, subd. 2.:

  1. The ability of the parents to cooperate in the rearing of their children.
  2. Methods for resolving disputes regarding any major decision concerning the life of the child, and the parents' willingness to use those methods.
  3. Whether it would be detrimental to the child if one parent were to have sole authority over the child's upbringing.
  4. Whether domestic abuse, as defined in section 518B.01, has occurred between the parents.  

Conclusion.  The courts will take each factor into account if it is relevant to the proceeding.  No one factor is controlling, as every family's circumstances are different.  Custody disputes are highly emotional and complicated.  If a custody dispute is in your future, you must be prepared to make your case under the framework of the above factors.  There are many nuances in the factors and they have been developed through decades of case law.  It is a good idea to consult with a family law attorney if you are preparing for a custody dispute.  

Disclaimer: No case or client-specific information shall be discussed on this website. The content provided is informational only and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have questions about divorce or custody in Minnesota , please seek the advice of an attorney.