What is the “Best Interest” Standard?
If you’re going through child custody proceedings in Minnesota, you might have heard the term “best interests of the child” being thrown about by your lawyer, the judge, or your ex-partner’s lawyer. It sounds straightforward enough, but what exactly does it mean? And what issues is the standard relevant to?
The “best interests of the child” standard is included in Minnesota statute. It requires the court to consider a variety of relevant factors. These can include, but are not limited to:
- the wishes of the parents;
- the wishes of the child, if the child is old enough to express preference;
- the relationship between each parent and the child;
- the permanence of proposed homes; and
- the child’s relationship with other people and the community.
Although the court can consider who is the primary caretaker as a factor in determining the best interests of the child, the law specifically provides that this factor cannot be used as the only reason to grant custody. So, for example, the mother being the primary caretaker would not mean that the court will presume it is in the best interests of the child for the mother to have custody.
Some real-life examples of the best interests standard being applied in initial custody orders:
- Custody by the father was found to be in the best interests of a child, even though the father was not the biological father, based on evidence that the father had done much of the parenting and had a strong bond with the child, that the father had a stable home, and that the mother was not psychologically stable.
- Custody by the mother was found to be in the bests interests of a child based on the expert opinions of three social workers.
- Custody by the father was found to be in the best interests of three children based on evidence that the children did not have a good relationship with the mother’s new fiancé and that the two older children preferred to live with the father, and based on a recommendation by an evaluator that the younger child remain with the other two children.
When will this be relevant to me?
The best interests of the child standard crops up in a number of different ways. First, the standard comes up if one or both of you requests joint legal custody; a court will presume that joint legal custody is in the best interests of the child unless domestic abuse occurred between you and your ex.
Second, the standard is relevant if you and your ex are attempting to come up with a custody agreement. The two of you can’t “agree to disagree” with the best interests of the child standard: even if you have a custody agreement, the welfare of your child will still take precedence over the agreement, and the court won’t let you enter into an agreement that is not in the best interests of your child.
Finally, the standard also applies if either parent wants to modify an initial custody order sometime in the future. In order for the court to grant a request for custody modification, the parent arguing for the modification must show that there has been a change in circumstances which makes modification in the best interests of the child. For example, if the noncustodial parent shows that actions by the custodial parent have endangered the child, a modification of custody would be found to be in the best interests of the child.
If you have any comments or questions please feel free to send me an email.