How judges make custody decisions

One of the most difficult aspects of a divorce is determining which parent should have primary child custody. Although co-parenting and joint custody arrangements are increasingly popular, sometimes a single parent must assume responsibility for the children. Minnesota courts weigh a variety of factors to determine which situation would be best for the youngsters; today, we will give you some insights about that decision-making process.

First, it is important to understand the difference between joint and sole custody. In joint legal custody, parents split the legal decision-making power over their children. This means that both parents' opinions are weighed equally by the court, except in some special matters. Joint physical custody simply means that the children spend time with each parent. When a parent has sole custody, however, he or she is the single parent that makes all decisions for the children. In sole custody situations, the primary caregiver is still bound by the restrictions of the custody agreement, but that person takes care of the everyday decisions in the children's lives. It is critical to note that sole custody does not necessarily exclude the other parent from spending time with the children, except in special circumstances when the children's welfare would be compromised.

A number of factors are considered when deciding whether to award joint or sole custody. First, judges examine the parent's past relationship, current interaction and future potential for raising the child. The interrelationship of other children in the family is also a consideration. The child must be able to adjust to the new home, school and community. In addition, in some cases, the child's opinion is considered, especially among older children and teens. Most of all, the parents' fitness is examined, including their mental health, criminal record and history of child abuse or neglect.

If you are attempting to craft a child custody agreement and do not know where to turn, contact your qualified family attorney. These professionals can help you learn more about your rights and responsibilities, helping you get the time you need with your children.

Source:, "From the Bench: A judge's child custody decisions" Monica Stauffer, Aug. 07, 2013

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