03 Aug WHAT ARE THE “BEST INTERESTS” FACTORS AND WHY DO THEY MATTER?
If you are involved in a custody or parenting time proceeding, you will hear the phrase “best interests of the child” repeated throughout various pleadings, conversations and court proceedings. While the term may generally sound self-explanatory, it encompasses a variety of quite specific considerations that form the basis for your custody and parenting time case.
Minnesota law requires that the court consider the best interests of the child whenever custody and parenting time are being established or modified. The best interests factors are set forth in Minn. Stat. § 518.17 as follows:
- 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 needs of the child which may require special parenting arrangements or access to 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 [NOTE: Minnesota law does NOT provide a defined age when a child may make this decision]
- whether domestic abuse has occurred
- any physical, mental, or chemical health issue of a parent that affects the child
- 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 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
- each parent’s ability 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
- the willingness and ability of parents to cooperate in the rearing of their child
The court should not consider conduct of a parent that does not affect their relationship with the child. While potentially relevant, a disability of a parent shall not be conclusive when determining custody. Minnesota statutes also provide for certain additional rebuttable presumptions that affect custody and parenting time.
The above factors are supposed to be weighted evenly by the court. However, practically, there seem to be factors that are given more or less weight than others. Every case is fact specific, and so you should have a conversation with your attorney regarding the specific circumstances of your case and how the best interests factors may apply.
At Baer Family Law, Rebecca has more than a decade of experience successfully litigating and mediating difficult custody and parenting time issues. Rebecca carefully analyzes each relevant factor in every custody case, while keeping you and your children’s needs at the forefront of her advice, guidance and preparation. Contact Rebecca to schedule a free consultation to discuss your custody or parenting time dispute.
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Authored by: Rebecca R. Baer, Esq.