A common misconception exists in Minnesota that courts favor mothers over fathers in child custody cases, but in reality, everything is situational, and judges try not to favor one parent over the other. Instead, they look at the whole picture before determining what would be best for the child and their future.
In some cases, the child may, in fact, be better off with their mother alone, but in others, with their father. In what most courts consider a “best-case scenario,” though, the child can spend time with both parents in a shared custody situation. Generally speaking, courts aim to protect children and do what is in their best interests, regardless of what that means custody-wise.
Traditionally, Mothers Were Favored
Decades ago, the law did favor mothers in child custody cases, as, traditionally, mothers would stay home to care for the home and thus end up more involved with day-to-day parenting.
Courts and judges generally preferred (and still prefer) not to cause drastic changes for a child, understanding that such can prove dangerously unhealthy. Therefore, mothers would often have the advantage as the primary caregivers, leading the courts to favor them as primary custodial parents.
Nowadays, situations have changed, both legally and within the home. Now, the law creates a presumption that both parents should be involved with the child. Judges and other neutrals involved in the custody process approach each family with the assumption that both parents have the capacity to develop and sustain nurturing relationships with the child. Parental roles have changed throughout the years, and mothers are no longer the default choice in a custody case.
How Marital Status Affects Mother’s Rights and Child Custody
When determining the custodial rights of a mother, it’s important to know whether she is married to the biological father, as it plays a large role in determining custody. According to Minnesota state law, biological mothers automatically have sole custody of a child if, at the time of the child’s birth, the parents are unmarried.
Still, that does not mean fathers have no rights. For fathers to exercise their rights, they must formally establish paternity, but their name on the child’s birth certificate is not enough to do so.
Instead, the father must properly fill out, sign, and notarize a Recognition of Parentage form and then file it with the Minnesota Department of Health. Alternatively, if a court order establishing paternity is necessary, the court can order genetic testing to definitively prove the paternity of the alleged father. Along with helping get custody, paternity can also show the father’s financial responsibility to the child. Once paternity is established, both mother and father will have rights to their child.
When parents are married, establishing paternity is not necessary (unless the father is not the husband). Under the law, the man married to the biological mother is presumed to be the biological father, giving them rights to the child. Therefore, in a divorce, establishing paternity is not necessary.
The Best Interest of the Child — How Courts Determine Child Custody
The type of custody that parents want has minimal bearing on a judge’s decision in a child custody case. Instead, the judge must examine several factors to determine what would be best for the child.
A majority of states follow what is called the “best interests of the child” standard. Specific states alter these factors slightly, but they are generally used to examine critical details that would help the judge decide on custody matters.
Some of the factors family court judges consider when making child custody decisions include the following:
- Each parent’s relationship with the child
- How involved each parent has been in raising and caring for their child to date
- The child’s physical, mental, and emotional needs
- Both parents’ willingness to work together to parent the child
- The benefit to the child of having both parents involved in their life
- How change would affect the child’s well-being
- Each parent’s willingness to foster a positive, ongoing relationship with each other
- Whether there is any history of physical or mental abuse, either to the child directly or within the household
- How well-equipped each parent is to provide for their child
The judge may also factor in the child’s preferences, though only if the child is of a sufficient age and mature enough to express their wishes. Still, the judge cannot base their decision solely on the child’s desires, regardless of the age of the child.
In any case, the court does not take child custody matters lightly, as the decisions made can and will have a strong impact on the child and their future.
Get Help from a Qualified Child Custody Lawyer
Child custody matters can be challenging, but a reliable child custody lawyer will have the skill and experience necessary to help get you the best possible outcome. When you’re looking for a strong legal team, Johnson/Turner Legal is here for you. Contact us today to schedule your guidance call with a qualified child custody lawyer.