Modifying Child Custody in Minnesota

December 19, 2011 - by Eric Anderson

Child custody in Minnesota is initially determined by a court using statutory factors to determine what is in the best interests of the minor child.  However, once custody of a child has been established, it can be very difficult to change later on.  Note that parents are usually free to change custody by stipulated agreement.  Minn. Stat. Section 518.18 provides the requirements to modify an existing custody order.

The Court must first find that there has been a change in the child's or the parties' circumstances and that the modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child.  Here's where things get more tricky.  Even if the court finds the elements in the previous sentence, the Court will not modify custody unless one of the following is present:

  1. The parties had agreed in a previous court order to apply the best interests standard in custody modification situations; or
  2. Both parties agree to the modification; or
  3. The child has been integrated into the family of the petitioner with the consent of the other party; or
  4. The child's present environment endangers the child's physical or emotional health or impairs the child's emotional development and the harm likely to be caused by a change of environment is outweighed by the advantage of a change to the child; or
  5. The court has denied a request of the primary custodial parent to move the residence of the child to another state, and the primary custodial parent has relocated to another state despite the court's order.

In reality, the factor that gets the most attention and litigation is the endangerment factor (#4 above) because if any of the other elements were present, there probably wouldn't be much of an issue to litigate.  Endangerment is difficult to prove (absent cases of physical abuse) and is decided on a case-by-case basis.  In addition, whatever possible endangerment exists must be attributable to the conduct (or failure to act) of the custodial parent.

The petitioning party's allegations must be supported by specific and credible evidence.  If the Court determines that the petitioning party has presented sufficient preliminary evidence (a "prima facie" case) supporting custody modification, then the Court will schedule an evidentiary hearing to ultimately decide whether or not to modify custody.  

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.