Basics on Minnesota Child Custody

Probably the most frequently asked question of Minnesota family law lawyers is how Minnesota child custody laws work.  Most clients want sole or shared custody of the children, but they’re not really sure how it works or even what that means.  The first thing you need to know about Minnesota child custody is that there are two kinds of child custody in Minnesota – legal and physical.


Legal Custody deals with decisions having to do with a child’s health care (including dental), religious and educational upbringing.  Legal custody is often simplified to: doctor, preacher, teacher.  In Minnesota child custody law, legal custody is presumed to be joint, requiring both parents to collaborate when making the decisions affecting their child’s development. While some Minnesota family lawyers may advise their clients that joint legal custody does not restrict one parent from unilaterally making legal custody decisions, the courts will often intervene, and may even penalize, a parent who denies the other legal custodial parent’s right to participate in the decision-making process.

If a court is considering joint legal custody between both parents, it must also consider factors placed in the statute that should be used to determine whether joint legal custody is advisable.  Specifically, the court will look at the ability of the parents to cooperate, if they have the ability to work together to resolve any differences they may have about the child or children, if it would be detrimental for one parent to have sole custody, and whether there has been any domestic abuse in the relationship between the parties.


Physical Custody deals with the routine daily care and control and residence of the child.  Physical custody is often simplified as, “where a child lays his or her head at night.”  Physical custody can rest with one parent as “sole” physical custody or with both parents who would then have “joint” physical custody.

A lot of parents believe physical custody also dictates visitation rights in Minnesota.  Visitation rights in Minnesota are actually referred to as parenting time, which has to do with the specific schedule each parent has with the child or children.  Parenting time is separate from custody and will be discussed in greater depth in a future blog.

Legal custody and physical custody in Minnesota can be determined by the court, but is more often determined through collaboration between the parents to develop a custodial arrangement that is in the child’s best interests and works best for each parent.  If you would like to determine legal and physical custody rights for your child, contact  us to discuss the specific facts of your case.