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Custody disputes and the child's best interests

When Minnesota parents decide to divorce, the realization that they may not see their children every day can be heartbreaking. For the children, the emotional distress can be serious and long-lasting. But if parents handle the situation in a mature manner, the transition to living in separate households can be made less upsetting for the kids.

Minnesota courts decide child custody issues according to a legal standard known as the best interests of the child. Under this standard, the court uses predetermined guidelines and judges how the apply to the particular case. Essentially, the court looks at the child's needs, and considers the ability and willingness of each parent to meet those needs.

Child custody in Minnesota has two aspects. Physical custody is what most people think of as child custody - the question of how much time the child will live with each parent. The other aspect is legal custody, which means deciding the extent to which each parent will have authority to make important decisions about the child's upbringing.

The court has a number of options in making a child custody determination. One common arrangement is for the court to award both parents joint legal and physical custody. The court may award joint legal custody to both parents, sole physical custody to one parent and visitation rights to the noncustodial parent. Any number of combinations are possible, with the overriding goal being to serve the best interests of the child. Many parents choose to negotiate an agreement as to custody, subject to court approval.

Divorce ends a marriage; it does not end the parent-child relationship. Reaching a child custody agreement that puts the child's interests first can help ensure that whatever caused the parents to split up does not affect the bonds between parent and child.

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