Minnesota's Family Law Blog

Child custody cases can be one of the most difficult types of cases in Family law. An experienced child custody lawyer must be an expert in:

  • Minnesota Custody Law
  • Understanding what is in the best interest of the children
  • Knowing the appropriate GAL/Custody evaluator to use
  • Understanding how the Judge tends to “lean” in custody cases

Listed below are some of the common Family Law questions that are asked by clients while going through a custody case in Minnesota, please look at the topics and see if you or your question about Minnesota Child custody cases can be answered.

Child Custody FAQ’s

Child custody disputes and parenting time disputes can become an issue that the Minnesota Courts must address in many ways but there are only two main ways when child custody becomes an issue:

  • Divorce – When married parents are filing for divorce or legal separation the court must decide what custody will be.  Every divorce order in Minnesota must include who is awarded custody, both legal and physical (see below for these descriptions).
  • Paternity Cases – Some far less common types of cases where custody becomes an issue are in domestic abuse cases;  third-party case where a aunt or grandparent has been taking care of the children, or if the county is involved in what is called a CHIPS or Child in Need of Protective Custody case, then these issues must be dealt with in the court system.

What types of Child Custody labels are there in Minnesota?

All this talk about custody can be confusing but under Minnesota law, there are two types of child custody.

  • “Legal Custody” means which parent will make the decision regarding, what I call the “Big 3” items.  Education, Health care and Religion. a  Often times people get confused and mistake the term legal custody for meaning whole or total custody, but that is not the case.  The current presumption in Minnesota is for parents to have Joint legal custody.
  • “Physical Custody” refers to which parent will make the decisions about the routine day-to-day activities of the child and where the child lives.  Often times this is also described as where the child “puts their head down” most of the time, but this is a laypersons description.

Depending on several factors, parents may share custody, which is often called “joint” physical and/or legal custody. Or, one of them may have “sole” physical and/or legal custody.

  • “Joint Legal Custody” means that both parents have equal say and input in decisions regarding the child’s education, health care, and religious training.  As mentioned earlier this is the “de facto” or most common result in custody cases in Minnesota.
  • “Joint Physical Custody” means that the daily care and control and the residence of the child is structured between both of the parents equally. One note here is that often times people have the belief that taxes or leaving the state with the child are controlled by this label, but that is not the case in Minnesota any longer.

The label of physical custody is not as important as it once was, so don’t get too worried about the label of custody, what really matters is parenting time.

What is “parenting time?”

“Parenting time” is what was once called “visitation” and refers to the time the non-custodial parent has the child.  The custody label doesn’t really mean that much since the laws have changed in the last few years.  Parenting time is usually set according to a written schedule and if the parents cannot agree the court must issue an order.  Minnesota has a very important law regarding parenting time and that is a “presumption” that the non-custodial parent have at least 25% of the overnight time with the child.

Parenting time is a key factor that controls Child Support in Minnesota and unfortunately, is often one of the reasons people fight so hard about every hour with their child.

How long does it take to complete a custody case?

It varies considerably on how complex the case is.  Will the case involve custody evaluations, parenting time evaluations, claims of abuse? Any of these issues can greatly increase how long the case will take.

What type of paperwork is involved in a MN child custody case?

There is always a lot of paperwork in a Minnesota custody case, especially when the parties cannot get along and go to court.  MN courts require that certain forms be submitted to the Court depending on the specific type of family case or legal issues involved. Some people think they can just “fill out form”  and give it to the Judge, but that’s not usually the case.  In our legal system doesn’t quite work that way, our system is based on each party have an expert advocate, a lawyer.

One common problem I see is that some people download the free court forms, fill them out, file them with the Court then realize they are in over their heads and go to a lawyer.  This is a problem because we often have to fix the mistakes with the court.  What I often say it that it’s more expensive to fix mistakes than to avoid them in the beginning.

What if you have an emergency custody/visitation issue?

An “ex parte” motion is when one party asks the court for an order without giving any notice of their motion to the other party in the case.  This is fairly rare and used when there truly is an emergency, such as the child is about to board a place to Russia or the child is living with a recently charged sex offender.  Most cases do not involve an Ex Parte motion.

What are the Attorney fees and costs involved in a custody case?

Custody Cases are expensive, that is the cold reality for a custody case.  If you and your ex-partner are having problems and both cannot agree on even the basics of custody, you need to be prepared for high legal fees. There are ways to minimize them and we will discuss these options, but you need to be aware that these types of cases can be expensive.