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Best Interest Standard

The Best Interests Standard can be found at Minn. Stat. 518.17 is based on several factors which the Court analyses:

Factors the court considers when deciding legal and physical custody, commonly referred to as the "best interests factors:"

  1. the wishes of the child's parent or parents as to custody;
  2. the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express a preference;
  3. the child's primary caretaker;
  4. the intimacy of the relationship between each parent and the child;
  5. the interaction and interrelationship of the child with a parent or parents siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests;
  6. the child's adjustment to home, school, and community;
  7. the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
  8. the permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home;
  9. the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; except that a disability, as defined in Minnesota Statutes, section 363A.03, of a proposed custodian or the child shall not be determinative of the custody of the child, unless the proposed custodial arrangement is not in the best interests of the child;
  10. the capacity and disposition of the parties to give the child love, affection, and guidance, and to continue educating and raising the child in the child's culture and religion or creed, if any;
  11. the child's cultural background;
  12. the effect on the child of the actions of an abuser, if related to domestic abuse, as defined in Minnesota Statutes, section 518B.01, that has occurred between the parents or between a parent and another individual, whether or not the individual who is alleged to have committed domestic abuse is or ever was a family or household member of the parent; and
  13. except in cases in which a finding of domestic abuse as defined in Minnesota Statutes, section 518B.01, has been made, the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child.

The court may not use one factor to the exclusion of all others and the primary caretaker factor may not be used as a presumption in determining the best interests of the child.

At the present time, the statutory presumption is that it is in the child's best interests for one parent to have sole physical custody. However, there seems to be trend developing in the courts in favor of joint physical custody if there is any chance at all of making a joint custodial arrangement work. A "statutory presumption" can be overcome.

In addition to the factors listed above, where either party wants joint legal or joint physical custody, the court also considers the following relevant factors:

  • the ability of the parents to cooperate in the rearing of their children;
  • methods for resolving disputes regarding any major decision concerning the life of the child, and the parents' willingness to use those methods;
  • whether it would be detrimental to the child if one parent were to have sole authority over the child's upbringing; and
  • whether domestic abuse, as defined in Minnesota Statutes, section 518B.01, has occurred between the parents.

The court must use a rebuttable presumption that upon the request of either or both parties, joint legal custody is in the best interests of the child, except if domestic abuse, as defined in Minnesota Statutes, section 518B.01, has occurred between the parents. This means that the court presume that it is in the child's best interests for the parents to share joint legal custody, unless one parent can convince the court that it simply will not work. The rational in favor of joint legal custody seems to be that our society wants both parents to be engaged in important decisions about the child's life.

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