Determining Child Custody in Minnesota
What is in the best interests of your children? That is the question asked in all child custody proceedings in Minnesota. Child custody proceedings can be part of a divorce process if minor children are involved or could be a separate court proceeding altogether if the two parents are not married. If the two parents are not married, and if the father signed a Recognition of Parentage (which is different than signing the birth certificate at the hospital) acknowledging that he is the father of the child, then either the mom or the dad could commence a child custody proceeding by serving and filing a petition for child custody. Minnesota law does provide that when parents are not married, that the mother has sole custody of the minor child or children until such time that a court order states otherwise. With this being the case, most frequently (but not always) it is the father who commences a child custody proceeding to establish parenting time and custody. If the father did not sign a Recognition of Parentage, then a paternity action must first be commenced to establish that the father is in fact the father of the child before the court will award to the father custody or parenting time.
Best Interests of the Child Factors
Which parent receives custody of the minor child or children is determined based on the “best interests of the children.” Minnesota law provides specific factors for determining the best interests of the minor children, which include:
a child's physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and other needs, and the effect of the proposed arrangements on the child's needs and development;
any special medical, mental health, or educational needs that the child may have that may require special parenting arrangements or access to recommended services;
the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient ability, age, and maturity to express an independent, reliable preference;
whether domestic abuse has occurred in the parents' or either parent's household or relationship; the nature and context of the domestic abuse; and the implications of the domestic abuse for parenting and for the child's safety, well-being, and developmental needs;
any physical, mental, or chemical health issue of a parent that affects the child's safety or developmental needs;
the history and nature of each parent's participation in providing care for the child;
the willingness and ability of each parent to provide ongoing care for the child; to meet the child's ongoing developmental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs; and to maintain consistency and follow through with parenting time;
the effect on the child's well-being and development of changes to home, school, and community;
the effect of the proposed arrangements on the ongoing relationships between the child and each parent, siblings, and other significant persons in the child's life;
the benefit to the child in maximizing parenting time with both parents and the detriment to the child in limiting parenting time with either parent;
except in cases in which domestic abuse as described in clause (4) has occurred, the disposition of each parent to support the child's relationship with the other parent and to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent; and
the willingness and ability of parents to cooperate in the rearing of their child; to maximize sharing information and minimize exposure of the child to parental conflict; and to utilize methods for resolving disputes regarding any major decision concerning the life of the child.
Modifying Child Custody
Once child custody is established in Minnesota (both legal custody and physical custody), it can be difficult to modify it. The standard necessary to modify custody is something more than just “the best interests of the children,” which is the standard applied to initially establish child custody in Minnesota. To modify either legal custody or physical custody, the Minnesota Courts apply an “endangerment standard.” Specifically, in order to modify child custody, it must be proved that the minor child or children are endangered either physically, emotionally or their emotional development is endangered while with the other parent.
Process for Modifying Child Custody
The process for modifying child custody in Minnesota, requires the initiating parent to bring a post-decree motion (i.e. a motion after the Courts have already established child custody). At the motion hearing, the parent must establish by “prima facie” evidence, that the children are endangered as described above. If the Court agrees that you have met your burden of proof at the motion hearing, the Court will then schedule the modification of child custody matter for an evidentiary hearing (which is equivalent to a trial) to take testimony from the parents, and any other witnesses, and to receive exhibits to facilitate the Court's determination as to whether child custody should be modified.
Change of Custody Based on Integration
Child custody can also be modified based on the theory of “integration.” What this means is that if the children move in with (change residence to) the other parent (the non-custodial parent) with the custodial parent's consent for a long enough period of time, then it may be determined that the children were “integrated” into that household. The consent of the custodial parent does not need to be actual expressed consent; the mere fact that the custodial parent did nothing after the child moved in with the other parent, may be sufficient “consent” under the theory of integration.
Stipulated Agreements to Modify Custody
The parents are also allowed to modify child custody based on a stipulated agreement. Therefore, if the parties agree to modify custody, they would just need to incorporate that agreement into a stipulation and order, sign it and submit it the Court for a Judge to sign.
Contact an Attorney for help with your Child Custody Matter
Blahnik, Prchal & Stoll represents men and women involved in child custody matters. Frequently, the child custody dispute can be resolved through mediation or through a Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE). However, if the parents are unable to reach an agreement as to the custody of their children, then a trial is necessary. Our law firm has represented many parents in child custody trials. If you have any questions regarding the custody of your children, or you are in need of representation in a child custody matter that has been commenced, contact our law firm for a complimentary initial consultation.