After years of debate Minnesota has substantially revised the “best interest factors” to determine Custody under Minnesota Statute 518.17, effective August 1, 2015. There have been meetings and substantial debate since 2012 on how the custody laws should be modified. An important overriding factor considered was to promote the best interests of the child by promoting the child’s healthy growth and development through safe, stable, nurturing relationships between a child and both parents. The factors now emphasize pieces that impact a child’s safety, stability and well-being and nurturing relationships. A shift now more explicitly looks at a child’s relationship with both parents.
The prior law included 13 factors and an additional 4 factors if either party requested joint physical custody. The new law now relies on 12 factors in each case.
1) How does a proposed custody arrangement impact a child’s development and a child’s physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and other needs? This is to focus on the child’s needs rather the parental requests as a factor.
2) A court shall consider any special medical, mental health, or educational needs of the child requiring special parenting arrangements. This is a whole new factor.
3) A court shall consider the reasonable preference of the child, if the court determines the child to be of sufficient ability, age, and maturity to express an independent, reliable preference.
4) A court shall determine whether domestic abuse has occurred in the parent’s relationship or household and the implications of the abuse for parenting and the child’s safety, or developmental needs.
5) A court shall also look at whether any physical, mental or chemical health issue of a parent impacts a child’s safety or development.
6) A court shall consider the history and nature of each parents participation in providing care for the child. Appears to simply the prior primary caretaker factor.
7) A court is to look at the willingness of each parent to care for the child, to meet the child’s developmental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs and to maintain consistency and follow through with parenting time.
8) A court shall evaluate the child’s well-being and development of changes to home, school, and community.
9) A court shall evaluate the effect a proposed arrangement on realtionships between the child and each parent, siblings and other significant persons in the child’s life.
10) A court shall determine the benefit to the child in maximizing parenting time with both parents and the detriment in limiting parenting time with either parent.
11) Except when domestic abuse has occurred the court shall evaluate the disposition of both parent’s to support the child’s relationship with the other parent and to encourage and permit frequent contact with the other parent.
12) The willingness and ability of parents to cooperate in raising the child and to maximize sharing information and to minimize exposure to parental conflict as well as utilize methods to resolve disputes on major issues impacting the child.
The law changes are yet to be interpreted, but appear to make major shifts in emphasis on the child’s needs and yet to be broader in focusing on both parents.
In dealing with Custody issues it is always best to retain experienced legal counsel to be fully prepared to artfully advocate your concerns and interests. There are many decisions to made in custody disputes concerning the Process, Experts, Mediators or Litigation, which are best handled with the assistance of knowledgeable legal counsel.