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A 10 Minute Review: Legal Child Custody in Minnesota


When married parents divorce or unmarried parents break-up, the most important concern for both the family and the court is the best interests of the children involved. Regardless of the circumstances, and no matter what role you play in the family, legal child custody is a sensitive topic surrounded by tough questions. Here is a 10 minute review of legal child custody in Minnesota:

Child Custody, Parenting Time, and Visitation Laws in Minnesota

In Minnesota, there are two parts that make up child custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions about how to raise the child, including decisions about education, health care, and religious training. Physical custody refers to the right to make decisions about the routine day-to-day activities of the child and where the child lives.

It is possible to create a legal child custody and parenting time schedule that meets the unique needs of your children and family. Joint legal custody means that both parents share the decision making responsibilities, including how to raise the children and life decisions. Most parents share joint legal child custody. Joint physical custody means that the routine daily care, control, and the residence of the child is structured between both of the parents. Or, one of them may have sole physical custody. 

The type of legal child custody does not determine the amount of time you spend with your children. Parenting time is defined as the time the child spends with each parent regardless of custody arrangements. Parents should focus on the creating a parenting time schedule that meets the needs of their children.

Visitation for Grandparents in Minnesota

In Minnesota, grandparents have the ability to petition the court for visitation rights with their grandchildren. In most cases, the parents and grandparents work together to solve this issue. However, if the court gets involved, it will consider the type of relationship the grandparents have with the grandchildren. The more extensive and positive the contact, the more likely it is that grandparent visitation will be awarded.

The Basics of Child Support

Child support is a legal obligation for parents to support their children. Child support covers three main financial areas: basic support, childcare support, and medical support. The non-custodial parent is often responsible for paying a specific amount towards child-related costs and expenses to whomever has custody, no matter where the child calls home. Even when parents share parenting time on an equal basis, child support may be paid by the parent with the greater income. The payments may be made directly to the other parent or paid through wage withholding.

Child support is based upon the Minnesota Child Support Guidelines. The amount is based on the parents’ incomes, time each parent spends with the children, and other related factors.

What to Expect During the Legal Process

You and the other parent, with the help of your lawyers, will go through each and every decision together, coming to an agreement on topics such as: legal child custody, physical custody, parenting time, holiday schedules, vacation schedules, child support, among others. This process will result in a legal plan, a parenting time schedule, and a specific outline of who is responsible for what. Once you reach an agreement, your attorney will create a binding agreement that will be approved by the court and become a court order.

If an agreement can’t be reached between parents, the court will encourage you to work with someone such as a mediator, neutral evaluator, or arbitrator to assist in reaching an out-of-court settlement. If an agreement still can’t be reached, the case will go to court and a judge will decide.

A Child’s Preference and the Legal Process

The State of Minnesota follows a ‘best interest standard’ and takes several factors into consideration. Children do not get to decide with which parent they will live. The court will consider a child’s preference only if the court thinks the child has sufficient maturity to make such a choice. If the court determines the child is mature enough to have input in the decision, the child’s preference will be taken into consideration, but not necessarily honored. Each case is specific to the family involved, but in Minnesota, it is generally assumed that a child’s best interest is to have both parents involved in a child’s upbringing.

Navigating family law can be difficult because each and every family is different, and there is no-one-size-fits-all formula. Parents should focus on creating a plan that meets the needs of their children. Custody labels are not as important as the parenting time schedule and overall plan for caring for and parenting your children. Children should be allowed to have meaningful and healthy relationships with both parents

For more information or if you have further questions, ask Jill Frieders at O’Brien & Wolf.

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