How to Get Custody of a Child in Buffalo, Minnesota

It’s a common misconception that Minnesota mothers get custody of a child more often than fathers. And it’s no wonder since some US states do award child custody time disproportionately to mothers.

In Minnesota, however, judges almost always prefer to grant equal custody time to fathers and mothers. That means fathers get an average of 183 days of the year, and mothers get the remaining days.

Are you seeking child custody in Buffalo, Minnesota? If so, a local child custody lawyer can help you start the process. But before you schedule your initial consultation, here are some things you need to know about child custody in the North Star State.

Reasons You Might Want to File for Custody in Buffalo

Many people assume that the only reason to file for child custody is during a divorce. But there are actually a handful of situations where filing for custody (or changing your custody agreement) is necessary, including when:

  • You and your spouse are filing for annulment, legal separation, or divorce and want a custody agreement
  • You and your partner never got married, have a child together, and want a custody agreement
  • A court orders a paternity test
  • Domestic abuse has occurred

Legal guardians may also file for custody if they are the sole caregiver to the child. Other times a custody agreement may be useful include cases of juvenile delinquency or if a child needs protective services (called CHIPS cases in Minnesota).

Reasons You Might Want to Change a Custody Agreement in Minnesota

It’s not uncommon for parents to seek a change in the original custody agreement. For example, the following situations might spur the need for a custody agreement alteration:

  • One parent isn’t following the court-ordered custody agreement
  • Domestic abuse
  • One parent wants to move out of state with the child

A family law attorney specializing in child custody can help you create or change your custody agreement. But first, you need to understand what type of custody you want to file for exactly.

What Kind of Custody Do You Want in Minnesota?

There are two types of custody and two ways courts can award each type. The two types of custody are physical and legal custody. The two ways courts can award physical and legal custody are with a joint or sole custody agreement.

Physical vs. Legal Custody

In Minnesota, legal custody gives the parent or parents the right to make decisions about legal matters. These matters include where the child will go to school, what church (if any) the child will attend, and any decisions regarding the child’s health care.

Physical custody, on the other hand, grants parent(s) the right to make decisions about the child’s daily activities. More importantly, the physical custody agreement determines where the child lives and for how long.

Joint vs. Sole Custody

Custody agreements can either grant one parent custody of the child or both parents custody of the child. The former situation is known as a full custody agreement, while the latter is called joint custody.

During a custody hearing, the court must decide on full vs. joint custody for both legal and physical matters. In other words, both legal and physical custody can be either joint or full. An agreement could grant one parent full physical custody but mandate joint legal custody and vice versa.

Full or sole physical custody gives one parent the right to decide where the child lives and what he or she does on a day-to-day basis. Full or sole legal custody allows one parent to make decisions about schools, religion, and health care.

The parent with full or sole custody is the “primary custodial parent.” The non-custodial parent may still have court-ordered visitation rights, though.

Joint custody allows both parents to split legal and physical responsibility for the child. Minnesota judges tend to agree that joint custody is preferable in almost all cases because they believe joint agreements are in children’s best interest.

However, joint doesn’t always mean equal. There are some cases where the child splits time 50/50 with each parent. But it’s more common that one parent may take care of the child during weekdays, while the other parent cares for the child on weekends or holidays.

Minimum Requirements for Filing for Custody in Minnesota

In Minnesota, a judge doesn’t have to decide the child custody agreement in court. If two parents can agree on the terms of the agreement, they can hire a family lawyer to file a Stipulation and Order of custody.

Even if you and your co-parent never got married, you can qualify for a Joint Petition for Establishing Custody as long as you previously filed a Recognition of Parentage form. With a lawyer’s assistance, you and your co-parent can then draft the terms of the agreement. However, if two parents fail to compromise, the decision will be left up to a judge.

To file a child custody case, the child must live in Minnesota with a parent or legal guardian for six consecutive months. The only exception is emergency custody situations in which the parent seeking custody must prove the child is in immediate danger of injury or loss.

Additional Requirements for Getting Custody in Minnesota

As we mentioned above, the child’s or children’s best interest is the most important factor in court-ordered child custody agreements. But how exactly does the court determine what’s in the child’s best interest? Here are some of the factors judges use:

  • How willing the parents are to compromise on matters regarding the child’s life
  • The child’s physical, emotional, cultural, and medical needs
  • The child’s preferences, especially if the child is over eight years old
  • Each parent’s ability and willingness to provide ongoing care for the child, especially as evidenced by each parent’s history of caring for the child
  •  Any significant relationships between the child and siblings, grandparents, etc.
  • Whether domestic abuse has occurred
  • How the child would be impacted by potential changes in where he or she lives and/or goes to school

Most of all, judges consider how detrimental it would be to the child to share equal time with each parent. They also consider the opposite — would it hurt the child if he or she had limited time with one parent?

Deployment, false child abuse reports, some disabilities, drug abuse, and a criminal record can also impact a parent’s ability to parent. So, judges will take these matters into account when determining the final custody agreement.

How to Start the Custody Process in Minnesota

The process of getting child custody in Minnesota depends on whether you and the child’s other parent are willing to work together. Also, if you and the child’s parent never married, you will also have to go through a slightly different process.

How to Get Custody for Unmarried Parents Who Can Compromise

If you and your co-parent never got married and don’t have an existing custody agreement, you can seek a custody agreement without going to court. Simply download, sign, and file this Joint Petition.

However, you and your co-parent must have previously filed a Recognition of Parentage form with Minnesota’s Department of Health to file the petition.

How to Get Custody for Unmarried Parents Who Can’t Compromise

If you and your child’s other parent never got married, don’t have a custody agreement, and can’t compromise, you’ll need to go to court. The judge will decide on the terms of the custody agreement for you.

To get started with this process, parents who never got married but filed a Recognition of Parentage form can submit a Request to Establish Custody and Parenting Time. If you and your co-parent never signed an ROP, the court must establish paternity before making the custody agreement.

How to Get Custody for Married Parents Who Can Compromise

Parents who are or who were previously married, have a child together, and can compromise on the agreement’s terms can file for custody outside of court. You and your co-parent will have to file a Stipulation and Order.

The state of Minnesota doesn’t freely provide the Stipulation and Order form. The best way to obtain one is to speak with a local child custody attorney.

How to Get Custody for Married Parents Who Can’t Compromise

Minnesota doesn’t freely provide child custody filing forms for married parents who need a judge to determine the agreement. This is because child custody usually gets decided during divorce or legal separation. A divorce attorney who also specializes in child custody can help you begin this process.

Once you have a custody agreement in place, you can request a change in your agreement. We recommend speaking to a child custody attorney to help you secure the best possible outcome.

Call a Child Custody Lawyer in Buffalo, MN

Before you file for custody in Minnesota, you need to know whether you want full or joint legal and physical custody. You must reside in Minnesota with your child for 180 days before you can begin the process. The exact process you go through will depend on whether you and the child’s other parent were ever married.

Do you need an experienced child custody lawyer to help you navigate Buffalo, Minnesota’s complex laws? We’re here for you. Call Carlson & Jones today to schedule a free consultation with our child custody lawyers.


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Buffalo Lawyers

215 East Highway 55, Suite 201
Buffalo, MN 55313

Toll Free: (877) 344-1555
Phone: (612) 800-8057
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Brainerd Lawyers

17025 Commercial Park Rd, Suite 2
Brainerd, MN 56401

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114 Main Street North
Hutchinson, MN 55350

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Phone: (320) 289-4761
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3911 Ridgedale Dr, Suite 404E
Minnetonka, MN 55305

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Phone: (952) 260-9640
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