Child Custody: Japan v. Minnesota

September 29, 2009

By Emily Matson, Attorney

CNN recently published Japan Father Abduction, the story of a father from Tennessee who, despite having joint legal custody of his children, was arrested when he sought to recover his children from Japan, where their mother, and the man’s ex-wife, had taken them.

In Japan, custody is given to only one parent in a divorce.  This is the opposite of our own country and Minnesota’s legal tradition and precedent that assumes joint legal custody is in the best interest of a child.

Legal Child Custody in Minnesota

The definition of legal custody is set forth in Minn. Stat. § 518.003, subd. 3(a): “the right to determine the child’s upbringing, including education, health care, and religious training.”  Compared to physical custody, which is the right to make day to day routine decisions about the child’s welfare, legal custody is about the “big picture” decisions that affect the way the child will learn about and be raised in the world.  See Basics on Child Custody and Parenting Time at the Minnesota Courts Self Help Center.

Joint Legal Child Custody

Most of the clients that come into my office seek joint legal custody.  Both parents want to continue to have an influence in the major decisions of their child’s life, and most of the time, it is in the child’s best interest to continue to have both parents as actively involved as possible.

The case of the father being arrested in Japan for trying to exert his right of legal custody should be a reminder to us not to take our legal custody rights to be involved in our children’s lives for granted.

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