Physical custody is the routine daily care and control of a child. Examples of care and control include bathing, disciplining, or preparing meals for a child.
Legal custody, on the other hand, is the ability to make major decisions for a child. For example, parents with legal custody can help decide where a child should go to school, whether they should get a flu shot, or what church they should attend.
"Joint" means "shared" in the law. It does not necessarily mean equal. In Minnesota, two parents can share joint physical custody of their children and it does not mean that the children have to spend an equal amount of time in each home. The only requirement is that the children live in each home for a scheduled period of time. That could mean spending every other weekend with one parent, or it could mean living 50% of the time with each parent, or anything in between.
The first thing to do is explore your options. Parents are often able to work through their differences informally, without resorting to the courts. In Minnesota, there are many good family law mediators and collaborative law specialists who can help you resolve disputes about physical custody.
However, if you can't resolve your differences informally, you'll need to go to court. There are two ways to seek custody of your child in Minnesota's courts.
In either case, you will have to give written notice of your petition or motion to the other parent, so that both parents have an equal opportunity to explain their respective positions and talk to the judge if there's a hearing.
Minnesota courts are required to look at the evidence and apply 13 separate factors to determine what custodial arrangement is in the child's best interests. Judges must always focus primarily on what is in a child's overall best interests. A judge cannot look at one or two factors and ignore the rest; judges must apply all 13 factors. The factors are:
If either parent is seeking joint physical custody, the court has to consider four more factors:
When the court has reached a decision, it must issue a written order with "findings" (an explanation about how the judge applied the facts to each of the factors and how that application supports the new custody arrangement).
The court order will state whether physical custody is sole or joint. If one parent receives sole physical custody, the court order will provide a detailed “parenting time” (visitation) schedule for the other parent. If both parents receive joint physical custody, the order will clearly state where the child will live, how long the child will stay in each place, and how transportation responsibilities will be handled.
For useful resources and more information on this topic, see Child Custody and Parenting Time in Minnesota(presented by the Minnesota Judicial Branch Self Help Center).
For information about modification of physical custody, see Nolo's Essential Guide to Child Custody & Support