Child Custody 101: Know the Basics

kids and dog.jpgLegal issues that involve children have the potential to be contentious and highly emotional, particularly when it comes to determining child custody. Additionally, it can be easy to get confused about the legal process, which can lead to unnecessary arguments and uninformed decisions.

To avoid these pitfalls, Minnesota parents should understand a few basic elements of child custody laws in this state.

Different types of custody

There are two different types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody refers to where a child lives and a parent’s legal right to make decisions about a child’s routine activities. Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions about a child’s education, religion, health care and other matters affecting the child’s well-being.

Parents can have joint or sole physical and/or legal custody, depending on what arrangement is in their child’s best interests.

Factors affecting custody

When it comes to deciding who gets what type of custody, state laws direct courts to consider several factors that help determine what arrangement is best for a child. These factors include:

  • A child’s emotional, physical, spiritual and developmental needs
  • Preference of the child (if the child is of sufficient age and maturity)
  • A history of abuse or violence involving either parent
  • Parental health
  • The level to which a parent has participated and is willing to participate in providing a child’s care
  • Each parent’s willingness to encourage continuing and frequent contact between the child and his or her other parent
  • How changes in living arrangements might affect a child’s relationships, home life, school, and community involvement

These and other relevant factors will help determine whether joint or sole physical and/or legal custody is best for a child.

Who decides?

Custody agreements must be approved by the courts. The courts can make these decisions themselves; however, parents are often able to develop their own custody plan outside of court through measures like mediation. Often, it is preferable for parents to work together to create their custody plan, as they know their situation and child better than the courts do. Once parents reach an agreement, they submit the agreement to the court for its approval–approval which is most often given.

We hope these basic principles of child custody in Minnesota provide a solid foundation of understanding, should you or someone you know need to navigate this legal process in the future.