How willing and able are you to fulfill your child's various ongoing needs? How you answer that question may have a serious impact on your custody matter.
Minnesota resolves custody disputes based on what's in “the best interests of the child.” In October, 2015, the state legislature put into effect a revised list of “best interests” factors that judges consider when making custody determinations. Why the revisions? Essentially, to place greater emphasis on the needs of children than on the desires of their parents regarding custody.
One of the factors in the revised custody law is “the willingness and ability of each parent to provide ongoing care for the child; to meet the child's ongoing developmental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs; and to maintain consistency and follow through with parenting time.”
Because the revised statute has only recently taken effect, there's not a lot that we can point to right now as to how courts will evaluate each parent's willingness and ability to meet these various ongoing needs of their children. However, common sense can help us unpack this particular factor.
First and foremost, the ability to meet a child's needs is clearly not enough; a parent has to be willing to do the things that are important for a child's developmental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs. You can imagine that a court might look less favorably on a parent who routinely:
None of this is to say that a parent has to be “on” all the time, constantly reading to, playing with, and engaging with their children, or dragging them to museums, religious instruction, and enrichment activities. But the language of the statute does suggest that courts will pay increased attention to whether parents are willing to put their children's genuine needs first.
Let's not forget the last clause of this factor, regarding consistency and follow through with parenting time. After all, one of the things children need most is time with their parents.
This is a huge issue for many couples. Most parents lobby hard to be awarded as much parenting time as possible. Most parents do this because they genuinely want to spend time with their children. Some do it because they genuinely want to pay as little (or receive as much) child support as possible.
The parents in the latter category tend to show their true colors fairly quickly. They may be awarded parenting time, but they often fail to exercise it. Parents who do not consistently follow through with parenting time are often the same type of parents who don't really engage with the children when they do spend time with them.
What's the take-away for you as a parent? If you want the judge to believe that you're committed to your kids' needs, you need to show that commitment in a consistent, day-to-day way over the long haul. It won't just be good for your custody case; it will benefit your relationship with your children, too.