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Minnesota adopts new best interests of the child standards

Minnesota court decisions on child custody are based upon the best interests of the child. The legislature enacted a new list of 12 legal factors to be considered in determining the child's best interests. The new factors took effect on Aug. 1, 2015. These elements apply to all custody cases without making any presumptions as to sole or joint custody. A rebuttable legal presumption still applies in favor of joint legal custody if there is no domestic abuse.

Courts must make findings on each of the 12 elements. First, the child's physical, emotional, cultural and spiritual needs have to be considered.

The second factor is new and requires consideration of the child's special medical, mental health or educational needs. Next, courts must consider the child's preference as to custody if the child has sufficient ability and maturity to express an independent and reliable decision.

The fourth element expands consideration of whether there was domestic abuse to include an examination of the nature and context of that abuse. The fifth element was amended to include consideration of chemical health, including drug and alcohol abuse, in the evaluation of the parents' physical and mental health.

Next, courts must consider each parent's history and the nature of their participation in the child's care. The seventh factor was amended to include the parent's ability to meet the child's future needs.

The eighth factor was revised to consider the effect on the child's well-being and development of changes to home, school and community. The next factor is an examination of how each custody proposal affects significant relationships.

The tenth element is new and considers the benefits of maximizing parenting time with both parents and the detriment in restricting time. Next, courts should review each parent's disposition to support frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent where there is no domestic abuse.

The last element evaluates the parents' ability to cooperate in raising their child. It includes their ability to share information, protect the child from parental conflict and utilize dispute resolution.

An experienced family law attorney can help a parent assert their rights and protect their child's interests in custody proceedings. An attorney may also help parents make thoughtful decisions during a stressful child custody dispute or divorce.

Source: Bench & Bar of Minnesota, "The new best interests of the child factors," Minnesota Child Custody Dialogue Group, Jan. 5, 2016

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