Family Law: Legal Custody

Custody in Minnesota is distinguished by two distinct types: both legal custody and physical custody. It is important that the two are looked at and considered separately.

A parent having legal custody, means that they have the right to determine the child’s “upbringing, including education, health care, and religious training.” See Minn. Stat. 518.003. In dissolution and custody proceedings, one parent can be awarded sole legal custody or both parents can share what is called “joint legal custody.” When parents share joint legal custody, they both have equal rights and responsibilities to make important decisions in the child’s life regarding education, health care, and religious upbringing.

It goes without saying, that when joint legal custody is awarded, the parties will need to have the ability to work together to make these important decisions in their child’s life. If an impasse does occur, the parents must seek relief from the court.

The court presumes that joint legal custody is appropriate, unless it is determined that joint legal custody is not in the child’s best interests. The presumption of joint legal custody is rebutted if there has been domestic abuse between the parents. The court will consider the extent, context, and nature of the domestic abuse and the impact of that abuse on parenting and the child’s safety, well-being, and developmental needs.

Importantly, the law now recognizes that the parents’ disagreement alone about whether or not to share joint legal custody does not mean that the parents are unable to make agreements together regarding the child in the future.

The designation of either sole or joint legal custody should not be overlooked. Having authority on important decisions in your child’s life is essential to your ability to raise your child how you deem fit and can have important implications on their emotional, mental, and physical health.

Once an award of legal custody is granted, it is very difficult to modify it. The court will require an evidentiary hearing and consider a heightened level of factors for modification. It is important that you speak with an attorney before deciding this important legal question for you and your child.

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