WomensLaw serves and supports all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.

Legal Information: Minnesota


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)