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Basics on Child Custody & Parenting Time


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.


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.


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.


A custody action usually requires living in Minnesota for180 days

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.


Court Forms

There can be a lot of documents needed in a custody case, especially when the parties do not agree. The court forms involved depend on the type of case or legal issue. Select the link below that most closely describes your situation.

NOTE: Parties can file a "Stipulation" (agreement) with the court if they agree on all custody and parenting time issues. 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.


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 stronly encourage you to get legal advice from an attorney, especially if the parties do not agree on custody, parenting time, or child support. Also read Can I Represent Myself in Court or Do I Need a Lawyer? 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 Laws, Rules & More Resources on Child Custody & Parenting Time. 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 linked below have information about parenting education classes on their websites. For other court locations, please contact the court administration office to learn about their approved classes.


District 1 (Dakota Co.)
District 4 (Hennepin Co.)
District 5 (15 counties in southwest Minnesota)
District 7 (10 counties in central Minnesota)

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.


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