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[General information only. Talk to a lawyer for legal advice.]

Family Court Services is generally a division within the involved County's Corrections Department. The jobs of Department of Court Services' are to conduct mediation and evaluations for parenting time (formerly and most commonly called "visitation") and/or custody. Court Services "CS" works for the Courts (Referees and Judges) to provide the information requested to help the bench make decisions about families.

  • If parents cannot agree on custody or parenting time (formerly and most commonly called "visitation"), the Family Court may require you to meet with Family Court Services to work something out between yourselves.
  • Family Court Services is an important agency that helps the Family Court decide custody and parenting time (formerly and most commonly called "visitation") cases.

Departments in different counties have different deadlines in which to complete the mediation and evaluation stages. Typically, the Court Services' officer has 6 to 8 weeks to submit a report to the court. Most Minnesota counties do not have a Department of Court Services to conduct custody evaluations and other services. Those counties may contract those assignments to private agencies or require parties to hire their own evaluators.

  • Mediation is a process where the two parents sit down with a Court Services staff person (a mediator) and talk to each other to obtain parenting time (formerly and most commonly called "visitation") and/or custody arrangement you can live with. The mediator will make suggestions and help you reach agreement but the two of you are the ones who must agree with one another. You generally have a period of weeks to mediate an agreement with one another. Mediation can be provided as a free service, such as in Hennepin County, but is generally charged to the parties.

  • Þ If there has been domestic abuse in the relationship, you will automatically go into an evaluation unless you agree to mediate. Mediation between a victim and an abuser will not occur, absent an express waiver of statutory protections by the domestic abuse victim.

If you are unable to mediate an agreement, you will most likely be court ordered into an evaluation.

  • Evaluation is a process where the Court Services' officer listens to the information provided by each parents, checks out the information from collateral sources, usually teachers, babysitters and other involved persons, to make recommendation to the Court about legal and physical custody. In an evaluation, you may have a joint meeting with the other parent but most of your contact with the evaluator will be in individual appointments. The evaluator will gather information from you, meet and interview your child(ren) if they are old enough, come to your home and see you with the child(ren), and have you sign releases of information so that they can gather more information from other professionals (i.e., schools, daycare providers, police, probation officers, prisons, chemical dependency treatment problems, psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, hospitals, etc.) The evaluator will run drivers' license and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension computer checks on parents going through the custody or parenting time (formerly and most commonly called "visitation") evaluation process.

  • Þ Fees for an evaluation may be as much as $500.00, with the costs generally divided between the two parents.

Terms that you will hear frequently are legal custody and physical custody.

  • Legal Custody covers four areas: education, medical treatment, religious upbringing, and cultural differences, if there are any.

  • Þ Sole legal custody means you make all the decisions about the children regarding these areas.

    Þ Joint legal custody means you must talk with the other parent about these issues and reach agreement on a course of action.

  • Physical Custody determines where the child(ren) live on a day-to-day basis. It identifies which parent gets the children up in the morning, puts them to bed at night, makes lunch, does the laundry, gets them to their activities such as school and daycare, etc.

Þ Sole physical custody means the child(ren) live primarily with you and have parenting time (formerly and most commonly called "visitation") with the other parent.)

Þ Joint physical custody means you and your partner somehow share having the child(ren) live with you (i.e. summer with one parent, and school year with one parent, or alternate weeks or months with the other parent, etc.).

Any form of joint custody, whether joint legal custody and/or joint physical custody, means there must be a great deal of communication and cooperation between you and the other parent as you will need to talk with one another on a frequent and regular basis.

When there has been a domestic abuse proceeding between you and your partner, joint custody, whether legal or physical, can be much more difficult to obtain under Minnesota law.

  • Parenting Time (formerly and most commonly called "visitation"). This means how the other parent (with whom the child does not live) is scheduled to see the child.

  • Þ Reasonable parenting time (formerly and most commonly called "visitation") means that it is worked out between the parents.

    Þ Supervised parenting time (formerly and most commonly called "visitation") means that someone else is there with the child during parenting time (formerly and most commonly called "visitation"). This is usually ordered when there are safety concerns as a protection for the child against physical abuse or intoxication of the visiting parent.

Copyright © 1997 Mary C. Lauhead. This document was obtained from http://mclauhead.com.

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