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Legal Information: Minnesota

Minnesota Custody

Laws current as of
December 18, 2023

How will a judge make a decision about custody?

A judge will make a decision about custody based on what s/he thinks is in your child’s best interest. The judge will look at any factor that s/he thinks is important to make this decision including, but not limited to:

  • the 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, developmental disability, 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 judge believes that the child has sufficient ability, age, and maturity to express an “independent, reliable preference;”
  • if domestic abuse has occurred in either parent’s household or relationship:
    • the nature and context of the domestic abuse; and
    • the implications of the domestic abuse on:
      • the abuser’s parenting abilities; 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;
    • meet the child’s ongoing developmental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs; 
    • maintain consistency and follow through with parenting time;
    • cooperate in raising their child;
    • maximize the sharing of information and minimize exposure of the child to parental conflict; and
    • utilize methods for resolving disputes regarding any major decision concerning the life of the child;
  • the effect of changes to the child’s home, school, and community on the child’s well-being and development;
  • the effect of the proposed arrangements on the ongoing relationships between the child and each parent, siblings, and other significant people in the child’s life;
  • the benefit to the child in maximizing parenting time with both parents and the harm to the child in limiting parenting time with either parent;
  • except in cases in which domestic abuse has occurred, the readiness of each parent to support the child’s relationship with the other parent and to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between them;1 and
  • whether or not a parent violated the criminal law against falsely reporting child abuse.2

Note: The judge is not supposed to consider acts and behavior of a parent that does not affect the parent’s relationship with the child.  Also, the fact that the parent or the child may have a disability is not supposed to be the only factor that determines who should get custody.3  Lastly, if a parent is in the military, the judge cannot consider the parent’s past deployment or possible future deployment in determining the best interests of the child.4

1 Minn. Stat. §§ 257.025(a); 518.17(1)(a)
2 Minn. Stat. §§ 518.17(1)(b)(6); 609.507
3 Minn. Stat. § 518.17(1)(b)(4), (1)(b)(5)
4 Minn. Stat. § 518.17(1)(c)

What factors will a judge consider when deciding if the parents should have joint custody?

If one or both parents are asking for joint legal custody, there is a “rebuttable presumption” for joint legal custody. What this means is that the judge will assume that joint legal custody is in the best interests of the child but either parent can present evidence to the judge to change his/her mind. However, if one parent has committed domestic abuse, this standard does not apply.1 See Can a parent who committed domestic abuse get custody? for more information.

    1 Minn. Stat. § 518.17(1)(b)(9)

    Can a parent who committed domestic abuse get custody?

    If one parent has committed domestic abuse against the other parent, there is a “rebuttable presumption” against the abusive parent getting any type of joint custody. What this means is that the judge will assume that both joint legal and joint physical custody are not in the best interest of the child. However, the abusive parent can still present evidence to try to change the judge’s mind and prove why s/he should get joint custody. In deciding whether or not the abusive parent has presented enough evidence to change the judge’s mind about joint custody, the judge will consider all of the following:

    1. the nature and context of the domestic abuse;
    2. how the domestic abuse affects the abusive parent’s parenting abilities; and
    3. how the domestic abuse impacts the child’s safety, well-being, and developmental needs.1

    It is recommended that you seek legal advice from a lawyer to assist you in a custody case involving domestic violence. For information on how to find a lawyer see our MN Finding a Lawyer page.

    1 Minn. Stat. § 518.17(1)(b)(9)

    Can the non-custodial parent have access to the child's medical, health, and school records?

    Both parents, regardless of who has custody, will have the following rights unless the judge takes away any of these rights in an effort to protect the welfare of the other parent or the child:

    • the right to access, and to receive copies of, school, medical, dental, and religious training records, police reports, and other important records and information about the child;
    • the right to access information regarding health or dental insurance available to the child;
    • the right to be informed by the other parent as to the name and address of the school the child attends;
    • the right to be informed by school officials about the child’s welfare, educational progress and status, and to attend school and parent-teacher conferences. Note: The school is not required to hold a separate conference for each party, unless attending the same conference would result in violation of a court order prohibiting contact between the parties;
    • the right to be notified by the other parent of an accident or serious illness of a minor child, including the name of the health care provider and the place of treatment;
    • the right to reasonable access to the child and to telephone or other electronic contact with the child; and the right to be notified by the other parent if the child is the victim of a crime, including the name of the investigating law enforcement officer or agency. However, there is no duty to notify the other parent if s/he is the alleged perpetrator of the crime.1

    1 Minn. Statutes § 518.17(3)(a) - (3)(c)

    Should I start a court case to ask for supervised visitation?

    If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised.  If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).

    However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice BEFORE you start a court case to ask for supervised visits.  We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.

    In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure.  Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time – and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised.  Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.

    In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate. To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to MN Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.

    Where can I find more information on custody in Minnesota?

    The Minnesota Judicial Branch has links to court forms related to custody and parenting time.

    Lawhelp.org provides information on custody, paternity, and parenting time.

    The Minnesota Department of Human Services also provides information on parentage (paternity), which is geared for both mothers and fathers.

    WomensLaw.org is not affiliated with any of the above websites. We provide the links for your information only.

    If I move to a new state, can I transfer my child custody case there?

    After a final custody order is issued, there may come a time when you and your children move to a different state. For information about how to request to transfer the custody case to a new state, please go to the Transferring a custody case to a different state section in our general Custody page. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you may likely first need to get permission from the court or from the other parent to move your children out of state. Please talk to a lawyer to make sure your plans to move don’t violate your custody order or your state’s parental kidnapping laws.