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Jaspers, Moriarty & Wetherille, P.A.
Seasoned Legal Judgment For The South Metro Area

Child Custody in Minnesota

What is the Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody?

When two parents decide to no longer live together, decisions and arrangements need to be made regarding how the parents will raise the children when living in two different households and how they will divide the time each one will spend with the children. In Minnesota there are two types of custody: legal and physical. One of the most common questions we get asked in a family law case is to explain the difference between legal and physical custody.

Legal Custody:  Legal custody relates to a parent’s ability to be involved in making the decisions about how their children are going to be raised. It is defined under Minnesota law as the right to make decisions regarding your children’s upbringing, including education, health care, and religious training. Legal custody can be joint or sole. Joint legal custody is where both parents are allowed to participate in decisions relating to the children. Sole legal custody is where one parent has complete authority over child-rearing issues. Minnesota law presumes that joint legal custody is in the best interests of the minor children, so in most cases the parties are awarded joint legal custody. This means that the parties have equal rights and responsibilities and both have the right to participate in making important decisions. These decisions include: where the children will go to school, whether and where the children will attend church, and whether the children should have certain medical procedures performed. When making a decision about whether the parties should have joint or sole legal custody, the Court considers the best interests of the children,  the parties’ ability to cooperate in raising the children, the methods available for resolving disputes and whether the parties are willing to use those methods, whether it would be harmful for the children to have one parent responsible for making all decisions regarding upbringing, and whether there has been any domestic abuse between the parties.

In our experience, the Court will almost always award joint legal custody unless there are extremely strong reasons against doing so, such as a very serious inability of the parties to communicate and cooperate, a drug or alcohol addiction of one parent, physical or sexual abuse having occurred, or a clear history of a lack of involvement in parenting the children by one of the parents.

Physical Custody:  Minnesota law defines physical custody as the routine daily care and control over the children and the ability to choose where the children live. It can also refer to the person who has the child the majority of the time, but it doesn’t always. Like legal custody, physical custody can be sole or joint. Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean equal. In Minnesota two parents can share joint legal custody and that does not mean that the children are with each parent an equal amount of the time. The only requirement when parents share joint legal custody is that the children live with each parent for a scheduled period of time. This is what is referred to as parenting time. There are many different ways parents can design a parenting time schedule. An attorney can assist you in developing a schedule and discuss some of the common schedule options that parents use.

Unlike joint legal custody, joint physical custody is awarded by the Court much less frequently. The Court considers a variety of factors in order to determine what is in the children’s best interests. This is a complicated analysis and an attorney can assist you in understanding what the factors are. When deciding physical custody, there are important considerations beyond just the parenting time each party has with the children. Physical custody affects child support and the standard for moving the children outside the state of Minnesota. These and other considerations can have long term effects. An attorney can assist you in determining whether a joint or sole physical custody arrangement is best in you individual circumstances.

The attorneys at Jaspers, Moriarty & Wetherille are here to answer your questions and assist you in achieving the custody arrangement that works best for your family. We understand how important custody issues are and we have skilled attorneys who can assist you with all of your family law needs. You can contact us at 952-445-2817.

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