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What defines 'best interest' in Minnesota child custody cases?

There are a lot of factors to consider when child custody matters are being sorted out under Minnesota family law. One of the most significant may be the number of people who could have a stake in the issue.

The situation might involve parents divorcing and the grandparents on both sides. It might involve parents who are unmarried. Here again, the grandparents on both sides might have a desire to be involved, but the dynamics of the situation could make finding workable parenting arrangements hard to achieve. Above all, the person of the child has to be considered.

Amid all these elements, the overriding factor that family law court judges are supposed to use in guiding final custody decisions is what is in the best interest of the child or children involved. While that may sound like a very objective standard, the reality is that it can be very subjective.

Each party can have a different opinion about what represents a child's best interest. But in the end, the judge has to sign off on any plan that is developed. And if the issue is left strictly in the hands of the court, someone is bound to be unhappy with the outcome. That's why working with an experienced attorney is always recommended.

In broad terms, framing issues in the context of the child's best interest means finding that mix of conditions that fosters the child's greatest health, happiness, security and positive development into adulthood. That being so, courts tend to consider these factors among others:

  • The child's wishes if he or she is of an age to express a preference
  • A child's special needs, if any
  • The ability of the parents to meet those needs
  • The physical and mental health of the parents
  • The stability of any proposed home environment
  • The nature of relations and support available from extended family
  • Religious or cultural factors

Best interest standards may vary depending on the court and due to changes in the law. Consulting with a skilled attorney is the way to be sure your plans are in line with current standards.

Source: FindLaw, "Focusing on the "Best Interests" of the Child," accessed Jan. 29, 2016

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