Child Custody & Parenting Time

Types of Child Custody in Minnesota

Under Minnesota law, there are two types of child custody.
  1. "Legal custody" refers to the right to make decisions about how to raise the child, including decisions about education, health care, and religious training.
  2. "Physical Custody" refers to the right to make decisions about the routine day-to-day activities of the child and where the child lives.
Depending on several factors, parents may share custody, which is often called "joint" physical and/or legal custody. Or, one of them may have "sole" physical and/or legal custody. NOTE: The custody arrangement could be different for each child in a family.

"Joint legal custody" means that both parents share the responsibility for making decisions regarding how to raise the child, including the right to participate in major decisions about the child's education, health care, and religious training.

"Joint physical custody" means that the routine daily care and control and the residence of the child is structured between both of the parents.

 

Residency Requirement

Generally, in order to have your child custody issues decided by a judge in Minnesota, the child must have lived in Minnesota with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six (6) consecutive months (180 days) before starting the court process. There are exceptions for emergency situations.

NOTE: If you live in Minnesota but your child lives with the other parent in another state, your case may be more complicated. You can read the law on "interstate custody" online at MN Statutes Ch. 518D. You should talk with a lawyer about where you may be able to file your custody case or modify an existing custody order.

 

Emergency Custody Issue

Emergency "ex parte" actions involve one party asking the court for a hearing and/or order without giving advance notice of their request to all other parties involved in the case. The party asking the court to hear a case on an emergency ex parte basis is required to follow several laws and Court Rules, including but not limited to: The MN Judicial Branch does NOT publish forms to ask the court to hear a custody matter on an emergency ex parte basis. You might find sample forms at your local law library, but we strongly encourage you to talk to a lawyer about your case.

 

Going to court without a lawyer?

You may represent yourself in court, but we strongly encourage you to get legal advice from an attorney, especially if the parties do not agree on custody, parenting time, or child support. NOTE: If you feel threatened by or unsafe with the other party, you may want to get legal advice or help from an advocate before going to court.

The State of Minnesota has several laws about child custody and parenting time. If you choose to go to court without a lawyer, you are responsible for knowing the laws and rules of court (see Rules and Laws tab). Be aware that each court in Minnesota may have local rules and procedures for custody cases for that particular court. Contact your local Court Administration about procedures in your court.

Where you go for court will depend on the type of case you have that involves child custody, so if it's a divorce case, you may go to Family Court, but if it's a child protection case, you may go to Juvenile Court. Some courts have only have one courthouse, others have several courthouse locations. Look in the Minnesota Courthouse Directory for contact information.
 

Parenting Education Class

When parents dispute custody or parenting time (visitation) in court, the law in MN Statutes § 518.157 requires that the parents attend a parenting education class. Depending on the circumstance, the judge may also order that the children attend a class.

The District Courts listed below describe their approved parenting education classes on their websites: For other courts, please contact your Court Administration to learn about their approved classes.
 

Fees and Costs

It costs money to handle custody disputes in court. There are court fees, possible attorneys fees, and other costs. If you are a person with a low income or you receive public assistance, you may qualify for a fee waiver or reduced court fees.

 

When does child custody and parenting time become an issue?

Child custody and parenting time can become an issue in many ways, including:
  1. when married parents are filing for divorce or legal separation;
  2. in court actions for paternity and domestic abuse;
  3. when a child lives with and is cared for by a third party, such as a grandparent or legal guardian; and
  4. if a child is involved in a "child in need of protective services" (CHIPS) case or a juvenile delinquency case.

What is "parenting time?"

"Parenting time," also commonly referred to as "visitation," refers to the time the non-custodial parent spends with a child, regardless of the labels used in the custody arrangement. Parenting time is often set according to a schedule as a result of a court order.
 
IMPORTANT: Carefully read the Instructions for the Forms, which explain how to fill them out and what to do with them. Go to Self-Help Services in the Courts to find information on getting help in your court. If you do not see a link to forms that fit your situation, visit your local law library, or talk to a lawyer.
 

Stipulations (agreements)

If you started a case and then all parties reach an agreement on the legal issues involving child custody, you may be able to file your agreement, which is called a"Stipulation and Order", with the court.  All parties must sign the Stipulation in front of a notary, and then one party files it with the court. The MN Judicial Branch does NOT publish sample Stipulation forms. You might find sample forms at your local law library or you could talk to a lawyer.


Ask for Custody & Parenting Time (no order exists)

The form packets found in the link below can only be used in cases where the child's parents are not married to each other. Both parents must have signed a MN Recognition of Parentage ("ROP"), or there must be a current paternity order stating who is the "legal" father. If unmarried parents did not sign a "ROP" form when a child was born, they can only get a custody order AFTER the court determines who is the child's "legal" father (i.e., paternity). The MN Judicial Branch does NOT publish forms to establish paternity. NOTE: Married parents can get an order for custody or parenting time through cases involving divorce or legal separation, or when a parent gets an Order for Protection from domestic abuse. Talk with a lawyer about your options.
 

Change Custody & Parenting Time

The forms packets found in the link below can be used to ask the court to change an existing parenting time order; enforce a parenting time order; OR assign a parenting time "expediter" to help with on-going parenting time problems.

Third-Party Custody (not the parent)

The MN Judicial Branch does NOT publish forms to start a third-party custody case. This area of law is very technical and there are several other legal options that you might want to consider other than third-party custody. A helpful booklet is the Legal Steps Manual: Raising Relatives' Children, which explains possible legal options related to caring for someone else's child. You could also call the Relative Caregiver Warmline (Lutheran Social Service) at (651)917-4640 (metro) or (877)917-4640 (toll-free) to learn more about third-party custody and get referrals to Minnesota attorneys who help with these types of cases.

If a parent wants to give another adult temporary authority to provide a home for a child and make decisions about the child's schooling, medical care, etc., the parent may be able to use a NON-court form called Delegation of Powers by Parent Form. NOTE: Use of this form does NOT grant "custody" of a child under Minnesota law.
 

Emergency Custody Issue

Emergency "ex parte" actions involve one party asking the court for a hearing and/or order without giving advance notice of their request to all other parties involved in the case. The party asking the court to hear a case on an emergency ex parte basis is required to follow several laws and Court Rules, including but not limited to: The MN Judicial Branch does NOT publish forms to ask the court to hear a custody matter on an emergency ex-parte basis. You might find sample forms at your local law library, but we strongly encourage you to talk to a lawyer about your case.
 
 
The following is a list of some of the laws and rules that relate to child custody and parenting time cases. You can get more help with legal research at law libraries in Minnesota. You should talk with a lawyer to learn how the laws and rules may affect your case.