During the 2015 legislative session, the Minnesota legislature has drastically altered how the Court will look at the “best interest factors”
The Minnesota Legislature has recently made significant changes to laws that directly affect family law cases. This blog post is one of a series of posts that will be dedicated to outlining the changes to the law and providing insight on how these changes may affect your existing or future family law case.
When the Court makes an initial custody and parenting time determination, as they do in a divorce or custody case, the Court must determine the custody and parenting time arrangement that is in the best interests of the child. Similarly, modifications to parenting time after an Order has already been established require the Court to consider the child’s best interests.
Minnesota law sets forth specific best interest factors in Minnesota Statute 518.17 that must be considered by the Court when making its determinations. These best interest factors are also used by custody and parenting time evaluators in preparing reports and making recommendations to the Court. Attorneys also use these factors to help present a client’s case to a mediator, neutral evaluator, or the Court.
Minnesota Statute 518.17, which governs the best interests of the child, has essentially been rewritten. The new language of the statute related to the best interest factors now reads:
Subdivision 1. The best interests of the child.
(a) In evaluating the best interests of the child for purposes of determining issues of custody and parenting time, the court must consider and evaluate all relevant factors, including:
- 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, as defined in section 518B.01, 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 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.
These are the factors that the Court will now be obligated to consider when making initial custody determinations or modifications of parenting time. The factors have been streamlined somewhat from the prior version. Minnesota Statute 518.17 currently contains thirteen basic factors along with four additional factors that must be considered when joint custody is sought. Those seventeen factors have now been eliminated in favor of the twelve factors listed above. The same twelve factors will be applied to every case, regardless of whether sole or joint custody is sought.
In addition to changes in the best interest factors, Minnesota Statute 518.17 now contains standards on how the Court must apply the best interest factors. This is entirely new language—not a modification of any previous language—and is designed to provide guidance to the Court when evaluating the best interest factors in light of the specific facts of a particular case. The statute reads:
(b) Clauses (1) to (9) govern the application of the best interests of the child factors by the court:
- The court must make detailed findings on each of the factors in paragraph (a) based on the evidence presented and explain how each factor led to its conclusion and to the determination of custody and parenting time. The court may not use one factor to the exclusion of all others, and the court shall consider that the factors may be interrelated.
- The court shall consider that it is in the best interests of the child to promote the child’s healthy growth and development through safe, stable, nurturing relationships between a child and both parents.
- The court shall consider both parents as having the capacity to develop and sustain nurturing relationships with their children unless there are substantial reasons to believe otherwise. In assessing whether parents are capable of sustaining nurturing relationships with their children, the court shall recognize that there are many ways that parents can respond to a child’s needs with sensitivity and provide the child love and guidance, and these may differ between parents and among cultures.
- The court shall not consider conduct of a party that does not affect the party’s relationship with the child.
- Disability alone, as defined in section 363A.03, of a proposed custodian or the child shall not be determinative of the custody of the child.
- The court shall consider evidence of a violation of section 609.507 in determining the best interests of the child.
- There is no presumption for or against joint physical custody, except as provided in clause (9).
- Joint physical custody does not require an absolutely equal division of time.
- The court shall use a rebuttable presumption that upon request of either or both parties, joint legal custody is in the best interests of the child. However, the court shall use a rebuttable presumption that joint legal custody or joint physical custody is not in the best interests of the child if domestic abuse, as defined in section 518B.01, has occurred between the parents. In determining whether the presumption is rebutted, the court shall consider 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. Disagreement alone over whether to grant sole or joint custody does not constitute an inability of parents to cooperate in the rearing of their children as referenced in paragraph (a), clause (12).
These changes to Minnesota Statute 518.17 will be effective August 1, 2015, so if you have already initiated a divorce or custody proceeding, or plan to do so in the future, it is important to understand how these substantial changes to Minnesota Statute 518.17 will impact your case. Contact us today for a free consultation at 651-647-0087, or reach out via our online contact form. We look forward to hearing from you.