In terms of deciding what’s best for your kids, the court will utilize a statutory framework of various factors that address the best interest of your children. Some or all of those factors will come to the forefront. These factors include things like the wishes of the parents, the wishes of the children if they’re of suitable age and maturity.
One question that comes up a lot is whether a child needs to be a particular age or if there is a mandatory age where kids can decide, and the answer is no. The statutes in Minnesota address the age and maturity of a child as something to be considered by the court, but not something that is a mandate on a judge to do something or to give a child all power, I guess, in that situation.
So in addition to the wishes of the child or children, if they’re of suitable age and maturity, the court will look at who has served as the primary caretaker for the children. The court will look at the type of relationship each parent has with the children, the types of interaction that they’ve had, as well as the intimacy of the relationship between a parent and child, how close they are. Does a child confide in one parent versus another?
The court will look at the stability of one’s home environment. There’s a strong desire to maintain continuity for the sake of children following a divorce. They’ll look at the mental and physical health of each parent, as well as the children. They’ll look at whether there’s a history of domestic abuse in the house and they’ll look at the general disposition of each parent to encourage an ongoing relationship with the other parent.
One thing that courts have made abundantly clear is that despite the differences between parents, both are parents to that child and the child generally has the right to have a strong loving relationship with each parent.
In considering those factors, it’s a balance. No one factor is to dominate another. What we do find, however, is that generally the caretaker element tends to sort of dovetail into the intimacy of a relationship with a child and how close they are to that parent. The more time a parent spends with the child, naturally, the more caregiving they do and the stronger the relationship that they have.