One committee developed legislation that passed unopposed in the 2014 session, but the most significant changes occurred in 2015 when the legislature passed the group’s revisions to the Best Interest Factors
which assist family court in deciding primary physical custody after family dissolution. Minnesota Lawyer
called the changes, “a complete overhaul of the custody and parenting time factors in Minnesota.” The package of bills passed the House of Representatives 121-0 and the Senate 61-3.
The new Best Interest Factors aim to move courts from a parent-centered to a child-centered view: for example, the former first factor, “ the wishes of the parents, “ is replaced with a “a child’s physical, emotion, cultural, spiritual, and other needs,” The Minnesota Lawyer commented that the new law ”is catching up with the last 40 years’ worth of social science, in focusing on child development, conflict resolution, and the importance of both parents in the life of a child.”
In keeping with the group’s vision statement, language was added that says “the court shall consider both parents as having the capacity to develop and sustain nurturing relationships with their children unless there are substantial reasons to believe otherwise. In assessing whether parents are capable of sustaining nurturing relationships with their children, the court shall recognize that there are many ways that parents can respond to a child’s needs with sensitivity and provide the child love and guidance, and these may differ between parents and among cultures.”
The redirection of decision-making to the unique needs of the child, along with statutory changes last year that permitted reserving a determination of changes in parenting time to correspond to the child’s changing developmental needs, will hopefully result in a reduction of the conflict between parents as they decide parenting time. This conflict has been exacerbated by the perception that the issue of custody was a win-lose contest between parents, and also by the perception that the temporary orders served as a template for the final orders.
In addition to the Best Interest Factors, the group successfully secured passage of a number of other reforms designed to make custody decision more equitable for parents and more focused on promoting a child’s healthy growth and development. They included a legislatively created task force on child support.
OCDR’s collaborative problem solving process, the facilitation skills of Dr. Kashtan, and Judge Peterson’s leadership helped these groups discover new ways to communicate, bridge differences, and develop solutions that met the needs of all involved.