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What Is a Custodial Parent in Minnesota?

by | Jun 15, 2021 | Child Custody, Child Support, Firm News

Determining the rights and duties of two parents in family court can be a difficult experience for many understandable reasons. When two separating parents both want custody of a child, it’s natural for them to struggle with their emotions. If you’re asking what is a custodial parent in Minnesota, it may be time to educate yourself.

It’s also natural for parents going through this experience to struggle simply because they may not understand the legal definitions of some of the terms courts use in these circumstances. For example, a court in Minnesota may need to determine which parent of a child will be deemed the “custodial parent” when parents are separating or divorcing.

The best way to fully understand the meaning of terms like custodial parent is to enlist the help of a family law attorney who can explain them to you. However, this blog will cover the basics. It defines what a custodial parent is in Minnesota, what a custodial parent’s rights include, how parents may share custody of a child, and how courts decide who should be a custodial parent.

What a Custodial Parent Is

The laws defining the rights and responsibilities of a custodial parent vary from one state to another to some degree. In general, though, a custodial parent is the parent who serves as a child’s primary caregiver. Although a child may spend some of their time with another parent, for the most part, the custodial parent is the parent with whom they live.

Sometimes, a court officially names someone a custodial parent by granting them legal or physical custody over a child. However, there are also instances when someone may be considered a custodial parent because they’ve reached an informal agreement with a child’s other parent. Additionally, if there is only one parent involved in a child’s life, they would qualify as the custodial parent by default.

Defining the Two Types Child Custody in Minnesota

As the above section referenced, there are generally two types of custody a court may grant a parent in Minnesota: physical and legal. It’s important to understand the difference between the two. Many don’t realize physical custody and legal custody aren’t necessarily interchangeable terms.

Under Minnesota law, when a parent is granted physical custody of a child, they have the right to make decisions about where a child lives. They can also make basic decisions about a child’s daily routine. Thus, to serve as a custodial parent, a parent must have physical custody.

A parent who’s been granted legal custody of a child has the right to make decisions about how that child is raised. These can include decisions about a child’s education, health care, and religious upbringing. However, because a child may not spend most of their time living with a parent who has legal custody, being granted legal custody doesn’t necessarily mean one has custodial parent rights and duties.

Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody in Minnesota

A court may grant one parent sole custody over a child. When this happens, they are the only parent with a custodial parent’s legal rights and responsibilities.

However, a judge may determine that joint custody is the preferable arrangement for a child. If parents are granted joint legal custody, they both have the right to make critical decisions about how to raise a child. If they’re granted joint physical custody, a structure must be established to ensure both parents have the opportunity to make decisions about a child’s day-to-day life and routine.

It’s important to understand that, even within the same family, a judge may determine that different custody arrangements are ideal for different children. For example, they might grant sole custody of a younger child to one parent, while granting both parents joint custody of an older child.

What’s More Common: Joint Custody or Sole Custody?

Minnesota’s child custody laws are designed with the assumption that in most circumstances, it’s best for both parents to have the chance to make decisions about a child’s overall upbringing. Thus, Minnesota courts tend to grant joint legal custody to parents.

That said, there are exceptions. For instance, if two parents aren’t able to communicate or coordinate with one another in a manner that would best serve a child’s needs, a judge might be more inclined to grant sole custody to one parent. This might be the case when domestic violence or similar factors are involved.

Sharing Custodial Parent Duties

Some parents understandably wonder how they’ll successfully make decisions about a child’s upbringing they can both agree on when a court grants joint custody. If they have differing opinions about certain issues, how can they arrive at resolutions?

To some degree, parents may need to navigate these difficulties together. However, in Minnesota, when a judge grants joint custody, they can make determinations regarding the specific types of decisions each parent can make.

For example, maybe two parents have been granted joint custody. Each wants to raise a child in their own religion. The problem is, they don’t share the same religious beliefs.

Technically, legal custody involves the right to make decisions about religious upbringing. That said, in a case like this, a judge may grant joint custody while also deciding that one parent will have the right to determine which religion a child is raised in.

Factors a Court Weighs When Determining Who Should Be a Custodial Parent

Ideally, two parents who are separating from one another will be able to come to an agreement regarding which parent a child will spend most of their time living with. Of course, it’s not uncommon for parents to be unable to agree on this issue.

A court must determine who should be assigned a custodial parent’s rights and duties when this happens. To make a decision that’s in the best interests of the child or children involved, a court must account for a variety of factors. They include the following:

What Is a Custodial Parent vs. Previous Roles

In some instances, one parent has already served as a child’s primary day-to-day caregiver. They may have been the parent most likely to cook a child’s meals, address their health and medical needs, discipline them, etc. A court may be more likely to assign the role of custodial parent to this individual.

Courts also frequently consider how long a child has lived in a particular setting when determining who should serve as a custodial parent. It might be decided that removing a child from a home they’re accustomed to and forcing them to adjust to a new living situation would not be in their best interests.


A court may factor in the degree of intimacy in a relationship between a child and both parents when determining who should be the custodial parent. This can be difficult to evaluate, but essentially, if a child is obviously closer to one parent, the court might determine that parent should have custody.

The nature of other relationships within a family might also influence a court’s decision. Relationships with siblings, relatives who live with one parent, and other important individuals in a child’s life could play a role in an eventual decision.

A Child’s Wishes

If a court determines a child is mature enough to make their own decisions regarding who should serve as their custodial parent, this might be another factor affecting the ruling.

Usually, a court won’t consider a child able to make these types of decisions if they’re younger than 12 years of age. As always, though, there may be exceptions.

Contact and Communication Between the Custodial and Non-Custodial Parent

Except in unique circumstances (again, such as instances of abuse), the goal when assigning custodial parent rights is to ensure the non-custodial parent still has the opportunity to see their child and be involved in their life to a reasonable degree. According to Minnesota Statutes §518.175, unless a parent is abusive, neglectful, or generally is incapable of providing a child with the care they deserve, a parent is entitled to at least 25% of a child’s parenting time.

In family court, it may be clear that one parent would be more inclined to allow the other parent to visit a child often enough to satisfy the legal requirements under Minnesota law. This is yet another factor that may affect who will or will not be assigned the role of custodial parent.

Cultural Background

Parents don’t always come from the same cultures. Although this is by no means the only factor that will determine who becomes a custodial parent, a court’s decision may be at least somewhat influenced by whether a child seems to be more “at home” in the culture of one particular parent.

Custodial Parents and Child Support in Minnesota

Up until fairly recently, labels such as “sole physical custody,” “primary physical custody,” and “primary physical residence” carried a high degree of weight in Minnesota. In most cases, a custodial parent who had primary physical custody of a child was the parent who would receive child support payments from the other parent.

That’s not necessarily the case any longer. Due to recent changes to Minnesota’s laws, courts will now consider the income of both parents when determining who should receive child support payments. They’ll also factor in the percentage of parenting time each parent will have.

How an Attorney Specializing in Family Law Minnesota Can Help

All that said, it’s important to remember that this is merely a general overview. These issues and topics are very complicated. To thoroughly understand what a custodial parent is in Minnesota, and to improve your chances of being granted custodial parent rights, strongly consider hiring a qualified family law attorney.