Recent legal innovations, like the recognition of same-sex marriages, have changed family law significantly in the past few years. Yet Minnesota’s family code had not been significantly updated since the addition of no-fault divorce.
That changed in January 2016, when a slew of new best interest factors went into effect. Now, almost three years later, both family law courts and Buffalo family law attorneys have had an opportunity to fully digest these changes. So, it’s a good time to look at the leading child custody factors in both initial determinations and modifications.
Children’s Overall Needs
Quite appropriately, the first factor concerns the children’s “physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and other needs, and the effect of the proposed arrangements on the child’s needs and development.”
Every child is different. But in general, most children need consistency and boundaries. Following a divorce, most children need to stay in the same neighborhood, retain the same friends, go to the same school, and retain the same religious habits. In other words, they often need to stay with the parent that obtained custody at the temporary hearing. The old saying that possession is nine points of the law is very appropriate here.
That being said, children need boundaries. The residential parent must be one that tells children to brush their teeth, do their homework, go to bed on time, and so on. The failure to do so could impair the children’s emotional development.
Children’s Special Needs
This factor is a new one. To one extent or another, all children have “special medical, mental health, or educational needs.”
This dynamic is especially important if there was a clear division of parental responsibility during the marriage. In other words, did the family have a “caregiver” spouse and a “breadwinner” spouse? If so, the breadwinner may not understand the details of a special need the way a caregiver spouse understands these things.
This factor is not nearly as important as some Buffalo family law attorneys believe it is. For one thing, many children do not want to choose one parent over another one. Moreover, the judge always has the final word. Any preference expressed must be in the children’s best interests.
So, a Wright County judge may consider such opinions “if the court deems the child to be of sufficient ability, age, and maturity to express an independent, reliable preference.” In other words, the judge has almost complete discretion. If warranted by the facts, a judge may discount the preference of a 16-year-old or embrace the preference of a 4-year-old.
Parent’s Physical and Mental Fitness
Some parents have health issues which prevent them from taking care of children. Sometimes, these conditions are self-inflicted, at least to some extent. On that note, the onset or removal of a disability is often the basis of a successful motion to modify.
Parental preference is relevant as well. Some adults are perfectly willing to be weekend parents. Sometimes they express this preference directly. Other times, the expression is indirect. Quite often, one parent faithfully attends choir concerts or soccer games and the other parent seemingly always has something else to do.
Ability to Co-Parent
During initial determinations or modifications, many people hire overly-aggressive Buffalo family law attorneys. These lawyers contest every point and refuse to compromise. This strategy often backfires. Many Wright County judges assume that parents who are combative during court proceedings will be even more combative once court supervision ends. Minnesota law presumes that children benefit from consistent and meaningful contact with both parents. If a parent repeatedly erects roadblocks, that’s usually not a good thing.
So, a good Buffalo family law attorney walks the line. Each parent must have a strong advocate. But each parent must also be willing to work out problems and coexist with the other parent. Problems are inevitable in a co-parenting relationship.
Ability to Meet Future Needs
Obviously, no one has a crystal ball and no one can see the future. However, it is possible to ascertain “the willingness and ability of each parent to provide ongoing care for the child; to meet the child’s ongoing developmental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs; and to maintain consistency and follow through with parenting time.”
Most Wright County judges can quickly tell if a parent is putting on an act to obtain a favorable short-term decision. Parents who see the children as trophies, or want custody so the other spouse doesn’t get it, rarely come out on top.
Connect with Experienced Lawyers
Whether the case is resolved by agreement or at trial, all child custody determinations must be in the best interests of the children. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo family law attorney, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.