East Lansing & Okemos Family Law Lawyers
Divorce & Child Custody
The Michigan Child Custody Act creates a presumption that it is in the child’s best interest to have a strong relationship with both parents. The Court will look at the relationship between the parents and the child(ren) prior to the current divorce or custody case and will decide if there is already an “established custodial environment” with one or both parents. If there is an established custodial environment, the parent requesting custody has to prove that any change is in the best interest of the minor child(ren).
What is an “established custodial environment?”
A custodial environment is established if, over an appreciable time, the child naturally looks to the guardian in that environment for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life & parental comfort.
What are the definitions of child custody in Michigan?
In Michigan, there are two types of custody: physical custody and legal custody.
- Physical custody: The actual physical residence of the child(ren) or where the child(ren) spend the majority of the time. The parent with physical custody provides the day to daycare for the child(ren).
- Legal custody: The responsibility of a parent to make important life decisions for the child(ren), such as what school the child(ren) will attend, health care decisions, extracurricular activities the child(ren) participate in and the religion that the child practices.
What is the difference between sole custody and joint custody?
- Sole custody: according to the Michigan Custody Guideline, sole custody occurs when primary physical custody and legal custody are given to one parent. If the judge believes that the parents cannot work together for the benefit of the child(ren), then the judge will usually award sole custody to one parent.
- Joint physical custody means that there will be specific times when each parent will physically have the child(ren) with them.
- Joint legal custody means that both parents will share in the decision-making regarding the important decisions in the child(ren)’s life.
There are many combinations of custody that a Court may order. For instance, a Court may order sole physical custody and joint legal custody, or joint physical custody and joint legal custody, or joint physical and sole legal custody. The final custody determination for your child(ren) will be impacted by the individual circumstances surrounding your case.
How will the Court decide who gets custody of my child(ren?)
Child custody arrangements are made according to the best interests of the child(ren). The Court will consider twelve factors when determining what custody arrangement is in a child’s best interest. These 12 factors are outlined below. It is important to note that not all factors are given the same weight. Each case is different which means the Court may examine some factors in more depth than others, depending on the circumstances in your case. Every factor will be considered before the Court makes a final decision
What are the “Best Interest” factors?
(a) The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
- Who does the child go to when they have a problem?
- Who prepares meals?
- How much time does the parent spend with the child each day?
- To which parent, if either, has the child bonded?
(b) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any.
- How is the child disciplined?
- Who enrolls the child in/drives the child to religious activities?
- Who stays home from work when the child is sick?
- How does each parent show their love/affection for the child?
(c) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs.
- Who purchases toys, clothes, etc. for the child?
- Who handles the child’s medical needs?
- Does the child have any special needs? Who primarily attends such needs?
- What is each parent’s earning capacity?
- How does each parent manage money?
(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
- Who can provide the most stability for the child?
- Is the current home safe for the child?
(e) The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
- What is the child’s relationship with any siblings or half-siblings?
- Who, if anyone, is living with each parent?
(f) The moral fitness of the parties involved.
- Does either parent have a history of drug/alcohol abuse?
- Has either parent been involved in an extra-marital affair? If so, what was the effect on the child?
(g) The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
- Does either parent have a mental or physical health condition that would affect their ability to parent the child?
(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.
- Who encourages the child’s relationship with their friends?
- Who ensures the child attends school?
- Who helps the child with homework?
- Does the child participate in extracurricular activities? Who primarily oversees these activities?
(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the Court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
- The Court will determine whether the child is of sufficient age.
(j) The willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parents.
- How does each parent speak about the other in the child’s presence?
- Will each parent cooperate with the other parent regarding the parenting time schedule?
(k) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.
- Has either parent been violent or abusive toward the other parent or the child?
- Is there a continuing pattern of abuse or violence by either parent?
- Has the child witnessed abuse or threats made by one parent toward the other?
(l) Any other factor considered by the Court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.
- For equity’s sake, the Court may consider any other evidence that may be relevant to a particular child’s case.
Can custody be modified and, if so, when?
Child custody may be modified if there has been a change in circumstances or if a proper cause can be established. The parent asking for the modification has the burden to present evidence showing a change has occurred or showing there is a proper cause and that the change is in the best interest of the child(ren). If you want to have your custody modified consult the lawyers at BLF to determine if a modification can be pursued.
Does my child have to appear in Court?
Usually, a child does not have to testify in Court. However, if the child is of a certain age and wants to voice his/her feelings about their parents, then the child may appear at the Friend of the Court or before the judge. Most judges will try to talk with the minor child(ren) in chambers (their private office) rather than during a formal hearing. However, there may be certain instances, for example, if allegations of abuse are disputed, where a child may be required to testify.
The lawyers at Basiga Law Firm recognize how precious your child(ren)is to you. Custody of your child(ren) may be easy to decide between you and the other parent, or it may be a very contentious decision. We can help you put into writing any agreement that you may have reached outside of the Court. Alternatively, if you and the other parent are unable to reach an agreement, our passionate litigation team will tenaciously fight for your rights regarding your child(ren).