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Effective Aug. 1: Revamped best interest of the child analysis

After three years of meetings, research and more meetings, the Minnesota Legislature was finally successful in its efforts to revamp the state's approach to custody and parenting time. In May, Gov. Mark Dayton signed SF 1191 into law, and on Aug. 1 the new law went into effect.

Among the changes was a reworking of the best interest of the child statute. The Legislature did away with the old list of 13 factors that the court must consider and replaced it with a list of 12 factors.

Perhaps "factor" is not quite the right word for the new list: The statute now provides more guidance to the court than the old list did. There is still room for the judge to apply his or her own assessment of the family's situation, but the new law adds a layer of complexity that should result in more consistent decisions from the courts and, of course, the best possible custody and parenting time agreements.

A few examples from the new statute:

The court must still consider the child's preference, but the child's needs must also come into play. The new law directs the court to look at the effect of the proposed custody and parenting time agreement on the child's development -- not only the effect on the child's physical well-being, but also the effect on the child's emotional life, his or her cultural and spiritual development and anything else that helps a child mature into a responsible adult.

The new law also asks the court to take into account any special needs of the child. Does the proposed agreement take into consideration any special care or special arrangements that the child needs? For a child with a physical disability, for example, the court will need to consider whether both homes are accessible or whether the hand-off proposal is workable under the circumstances.

No consideration of a child's best interest could omit whether the parents themselves are capable of caring for the child. The new list clarifies that the court should look at the parent's physical health, mental health or chemical dependency issues (if there are any) in terms of how those characteristics could affect not just the child's development, but the child's safety as well.

We'll continue this in our next post.

Source: Minnesota Legislature: House Research Act Summary of Chapter 30, Session 2015, Mary Mullen, May 12, 2015

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