At the midpoint of Minnesota’s 2015 legislative session, conversations continue surrounding an overhaul of the custody and parenting time statutes – language that has been on the books for decades.
Best Interest of the Child Factors
The proposed legislation (that appears to be acceptable to interest groups from all sides) involves revamping the “best interest of the child” factors. At present, judicial officers must utilize the following factors in determining physical and legal custody of a child:
- The wishes of the child’s parent or parents as to custody;
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference;
- The child’s primary caretaker;
- The intimacy of the relationship between each parent and the child;
- 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;
- The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community;
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
- The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home;
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
- 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;
- The child’s cultural background;
- The effect on the child of the actions of an abuser, if related to domestic abuse that has occurred between the parents or between a parent and another individual, whether or not the individual alleged to have committed domestic abuse is or ever was a family or household member of the parent; and
- The disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child.
The new provisions appear to be replacing a “1960’s” mentality, in terms of child development and family functioning.
While still not signed by Governor Dayton, or approved by the legislature itself, the “best interest of the child” factors appear to be heading in that direction. Those “replacement” factors are as follows:
- A child’s physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual and other needs;
- Any special needs the child has that require special parenting time arrangements;
- Preference of the child, if the child is of sufficient age and maturity to express an independent, reliable preference;
- Whether domestic abuse has occurred, either between the parents or in the parents’ households or relationships and the implications to the child’s safety and well-being;
- The physical, mental or chemical health issues of a parent that affect the child’s safety or development;
- 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, including meeting developmental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs and be consistent in their parenting time;
- The effect of a change to the child’s home, school and community;
- The effect of the proposed arrangement on the child’s ongoing relationships between the child and the parents, siblings and significant persons in the child’s life;
- The benefit to the child in maximizing the parenting time with each parent and the detriment of limiting time with either parent;
- The ability of the parents to support a continuing relationship with the other parent, except in cases where domestic abuse has occurred; and
- The willingness and ability of the parents to cooperate in rearing their child and to keep their children out of parental conflict and utilize methods to resolve disputes regarding raising the child
In addition to the changes to the custody factors, additional legislation involves an amendment to the child support guidelines, and a new “divorce without court” alternative for couples who wish to resolve their divorce on their own.