What are the best interests factors?

How does a court determine which parent should have legal custody and physical custody of a child?  This is a heart wrenching question because parents love their child more than words can express.  If parents cannot agree to an answer, a judge must make a decision for them.  Minnesota Statute Section 518.17 states a judge has to balance 12 best interests factors to determine what is in the child’s best interests for legal and physical custody.

A person going through a divorce or child custody case is best served by talking with an experienced family law attorney to learn about these twelve factors and how each applies to that person’s situation.  Legal and physical custody are the most complex issues for divorce and child custody cases not only because of the emotions of the parents, the child and the parents’ families but because of how the law applies to one’s specific situation.

There are twelve best interests factors a court must use to evaluate the best interests of the child for purposes of determining issues of custody and parenting time. The court must consider and evaluate these relevant factors:

(a)       In evaluating the best interests of the child for purposes of determining issues of custody and parenting time, the court must consider and evaluate all relevant factors, including:

(1)       a child’s physical, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and other needs, and the effect of the proposed arrangements on the child’s needs and development;

(2)       any special medical, mental health, or educational needs that the child may have that may require special parenting arrangements or access to recommended services;

(3)       the reasonable preference of the child, if the courts deems the child to be of sufficient ability, age, and maturity to express an independent, reliable preference;

(4)       whether domestic abuse, as defined in section 518B.01, has occurred in the parents’ or either parent’s household or relationship; the nature and context of the domestic abuse; and the implications of the domestic abuse for parenting and for the child’s safety, well-being, and developmental needs;

(5)       any physical, mental, or chemical health issue of a parent that affects the child’s safety or developmental needs;

(6)       the history and nature of each parent’s participation in providing care for the child;

(7)       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;

(8)       the effect on the child’s well-being and development of changes to home, school, and community;

(9)       the effect of the proposed arrangements on the ongoing relationships between the child and each parent, siblings, and other significant persons in the child’s life;

(10)     the benefit to the child in maximizing parenting time with both parents and the detriment to the child in limiting parenting time with either parent;

(11)     except in cases in which domestic abuse as described in clause (4) has occurred, the disposition of each parent to support the child’s relationship with the other parent and to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent; and

(12)     the willingness and ability of parents to cooperate in the rearing of their child; to maximize sharing information and minimize exposure of the child to parental conflict; and to utilize methods for resolving disputes regarding any major decision concerning the life of the child.

Clearly the best interests factors are a great deal to consider.  Talking with an experienced family law attorney is invaluable in learning the best interests factors and how they affect a parent’s case.


Jessica Sterle