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What Is Joint Custody in Minnesota?

by | Jul 27, 2021 | Child Custody, Firm News

Deciding who should have custody of the children can be one of the most difficult aspects of the divorce process. It’s essential that as a parent, you ask the question, What is joint custody in Minnesota? The most qualified persons to tell you are a  Minnesota family law attorney, but we’re also offering some tips and advice.

The nature of custody arrangements when a divorce is finalized can vary significantly on a case-by-case basis. A judge will consider many factors when making decisions about how a child is to be raised after their parents get a divorce.

Sometimes, a judge will determine that joint custody is ideal. This overview will cover what joint custody is in Minnesota and when it might be granted, helping you better understand how this arrangement may impact you, your spouse, and most importantly, your child.

Types of Child Custody in Minnesota

Before learning about joint custody in Minnesota, it’s necessary to be familiar with the two types of custody a court may grant. They are:

  • Physical custody, which involves the right to make key decisions about a child’s routine, daily activities, and where they live.
  • Legal custody, which applies to decisions about how to raise a child. For example, a parent granted legal custody over a child has the right to make decisions about their health and religious education or training.

There are instances when a court will grant sole physical custody, legal custody, or both to one parent. However, it’s not uncommon for courts to grant joint custody.

What Joint Custody in Minnesota Involves

Joint custody in Minnesota also comes in two forms:

  • Joint physical custody, in which both parents are involved in making decisions about a child’s routine and care.
  • Joint legal custody, which allows both parents to make decisions regarding how a child may be raised.

It’s worth noting that parents granted joint custody in any form don’t necessarily have equal custody. For example, a court may grant both parents joint physical custody of a child. This doesn’t mean the child has to spend an equal amount of time living with both parents. Although that can happen, it’s somewhat uncommon, particularly when parents don’t end up living close enough to one another to allow a child to split their time equally between their homes while still attending one school, maintaining the same general routine, etc.

Joint physical custody may be more likely to involve the court deciding that a child must spend a certain amount of time with one parent. For example, a child may spend every other weekend with one parent. This allows them to maintain a degree of routine and stability while also ensuring that a parent still has the right to see their child on a somewhat regular basis.

Factors Influencing Joint Custody Decisions in Minnesota

Courts will account for a variety of factors when determining whether to grant joint custody in Minnesota. They include the following:

The Child’s Wishes

Sometimes, a court will make custody decisions based on the wishes of the child. However, they only do so when it’s determined that a child is mature enough to express a “reasonable preference.”

For instance, a teenager might be deemed mature enough to make this type of decision, while a very young child might not be. A mature child’s preference might also apply to whether joint custody is granted if a child expresses a desire to split their time between two parents who also agree to this type of resolution.


Naturally, if abuse has occurred, even if the children haven’t been the direct targets of it, the judge will typically favor the parent who didn’t commit abuse. A court is unlikely to grant joint custody when abuse is involved.

Current Roles

Often, one parent has been more involved in the overall care and upbringing of a child than another, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, divorcing spouses have nevertheless both been involved in caring for a child to a significant degree. Joint custody may be an option in these cases.

Adjustment issues

Forcing a child to adjust to a new home or school can substantially disrupt their life. Forcing them to split their time between two parents who live somewhat far from each other can have a similar effect. However, if granting joint custody won’t have a major disruptive impact, a court may do so.


A judge will typically account for the ability of the parents to provide their child with care, support, education, and guidance when making custody decisions. They might be more inclined to grant joint custody if it appears both parents have the capacity to reasonably provide for a child.


Joint custody naturally involves both parents working together to make decisions about a child’s upbringing, daily routine, or both, depending on the type of joint custody that’s granted. Parents must therefore be able to communicate and coordinate to a reasonable degree. A judge will consider whether they appear able to do so when deciding whether to grant joint custody.

Dispute resolution methods

Along with considering whether both parents are generally able to cooperate, a judge will also typically account for the methods they use to resolve disputes about a child’s life, and whether they seem willing and able to apply those methods in a productive and healthy manner.


There are some instances when, for various reasons, it may appear that allowing one parent to have sole custody of a child will be detrimental to said child in some way. If this is the case, joint custody might be granted.

The Parents’ Wishes

Not all divorces involve lengthy and painful disputes. Sometimes, both parents can agree to joint custody. This is often easier to achieve when skilled family lawyers are involved.

A court may of course be more likely to grant joint custody when two parents agree it’s what’s best for a child. However, a judge will also account for the degree to which both parents seem genuinely willing to allow the other to be involved in a child’s life. If there is strong reason to believe one parent won’t actually honor the terms of a joint custody agreement, a judge might feel granting sole custody to the other parent is the better option. That said, a judge is unlikely to overrule the mutual decision of two parents except in very rare circumstances.

Reasons a Court May Grant Joint Custody in Minnesota

Along with the reasons mentioned above, such as a child’s preferences, other reasons a court may grant joint custody in Minnesota include the following:

Relieving Burdens

Raising a child on one’s own can be very difficult. Even if a parent is relatively suited to care for a child, a court may decide they can’t do so on their own. Or, a court may decide that requiring one parent to raise a child without help is unreasonable. This is one of the most common reasons courts grant joint custody.

Promoting Cooperation

Even when one parent is granted sole custody, another parent will often have the right to see their child and be involved in their life to some degree. That parent may then try to be involved in raising the child. This can cause disputes that are not in the child’s best interests.

However, when parents are granted joint custody, a child provides a “common ground.” Both parents must learn to cooperate when making decisions about a child’s upbringing, education, and more. This can be difficult at first, but in the long run, being required to cooperate can help parents learn to work together without friction, resulting in a more desirable outcome for a child.

Optimizing a Child’s Upbringing

A court may determine that both parents have strengths and resources that would benefit a child as they grow up. Depriving a child of those advantages by granting sole custody to one parent might seem to be the wrong decision. In order for a child to receive the maximum benefits, a court may grant joint custody.

Reasons a Court Might Not Grant Joint Custody in Minnesota

Again, abuse and other factors may contribute to a decision not to grant joint custody. Other reasons a court may decide sole custody is the preferred arrangement include:

Stress of Moving

A judge may decide that, based on various factors (such as the distances between the homes of two parents or significant differences in the home environments), frequently moving back and forth between two homes isn’t best for a child. If so, joint custody could be unlikely.


Joint custody can promote greater cooperation for some couples. However, there are instances when two parents simply can’t cooperate, and a joint custody arrangement will result in disputes and conflict that are harmful to a child.

Essentially, developing a parenting plan for a child when you’re going through a divorce can be a complex process that requires accounting for numerous factors, being honest with your spouse about your plans, and perhaps even making concessions, all in the effort to ensure the resolution is in your child’s best interests.

What is Joint Custody? Ask a Family Law Lawyer in Minnesota

This isn’t meant to discourage you. While this process can be difficult, it doesn’t necessarily need to be as challenging as you imagine. A Minnesota divorce lawyer can help you reach an outcome that’s ideal for all parties involved. They’ll also protect your rights if your spouse is demanding sole custody unreasonably.