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Determining Child Custody in Minnesota and Wisconsin: Best Interest Factors

by | Jul 9, 2021 | Blog, Family

Determining child custody is not an exact science, as every family has their own dynamic. When deciding legal and physical custody, and parenting time in Minnesota, Courts look at the 12 best interest factors found in Minn. Stat. s. 518.17. Each parent will provide evidence that supports their claim, and this evidence will be used to weigh the factors in favor of one parent having sole custody or both parents sharing joint custody. These factors are: 

  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 court deems the child to be of sufficient ability, age, and maturity to express an independent, reliable preference;
  4. Whether domestic abuse, as defined in s. 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 development 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, sibling, and other significant person 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 to the child to parental conflict; and to utilize methods for resolving disputes regarding any major decision concerning the life of the child. 

Each case is based upon the best interest of the child, but every case is different, and some cases have facts that do not fit closely into the 12 factors. The court will take into account any unusual or specific facts of your particular case that may be relevant to the best interest of the child. 

Wisconsin has a similar statute as to what the Wisconsin courts consider to be in the best interest of the child. Wis. Stat. s. 767.41(5)(am) considers 14 factors, some of which differ from those in Minnesota. These factors are: 

  1. The wishes of the child’s parent or parents, as shown by any stipulation between the parties, any proposed parenting plan or any legal custody or physical placement proposal submitted to the court at trial. 
  2. The wishes of the child, which may be communicated by the child or through the child’s guardian ad litem or other appropriate professional.
  3. The cooperation and communication between the parties and whether either party unreasonably refuses to cooperate or communicate with the other party.
  4. Whether each party can support the other party’s relationship with the child, including encouraging and facilitating frequent and continuing contact with the child, or whether one party is likely to unreasonably interfere with the child’s continuing relationship with the other party. 
  5. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest.
  6. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents and the amount and quality of time that each parent has spent with the child in the past, any necessary changes to the parents’ custodial roles, and any reasonable lifestyle changes that a parent proposes to make to maximize placement with the child. 
  7. Whether any of the following has or had a significant problem with alcohol or drug abuse:
    1. A party.
    2. A person with whom a parent of the child has a dating relationship, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(ag).
    3. A person who resides, has resided, or will reside regularly or intermittently in a proposed custodial household. 
  8. The child’s adjusted to the home, school, religion, and community. 
  9. The ages of the child and the child’s developmental and educational needs at different ages.
  10. Whether the mental or physical health of a party, minor child, or other person living in a proposed custodial household negatively affects the child’s intellectual, physical, or emotional well-being. 
  11. Whether any of the following has a criminal record or whether there is evidence that any of the following has engaged in abuse, as defined in s. 813.122(1)(a), of the child or any other child or neglected the child or any other child:
    1. A party.
    2. A person with whom a parent of the child has a dating relationship, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(ag).
    3. A person who resides, has resided, or will reside regularly or intermittently in a proposed custodial household. 
  12. Whether there is evidence of interspousal battery, as described under s. 940.19 or 940.20(1m), or domestic abuse, as defined in s. 813.12(am).
  13. The reports of appropriate professionals if admitted into evidence. 
  14. Any other factor that the court determines to be relevant. 

In both states, the governing principal is the best interests of the child. 

If you have questions concerning a child custody issue or are in need of representation in a custody matter, please contact the family law attorneys at Bosshard Parke Ltd. at (608) 782-1469.