Understanding Michigan Custody Law – Clinton Township, Mt. Clemens, Warren, Macomb County Lawyer
Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody
Sole Custody is when children live with just one parent, who is responsible for the child’s care and legally allowed to make decisions about the child’s welfare – such as schooling, medical care, etc. In a Sole Custody situation the other parent may – or may not – have visitation (parenting time) rights and/or child support obligations.
There are, however, two types of Joint Custody:
Joint Legal Custody refers to parents sharing important decisions relating to the child – such as medical care, school enrollment, day care arrangements, etc. Parents sharing Joint Legal Custody may or may not also share Joint Physical Custody.
Joint Physical Custody refers to parents sharing more or less equally in providing the child’s physical living arrangements. This is only typically arranged where the parents get along very well and are in agreement on most of the major issues of child rearing. Joint Physical Custody can be established according to a set day/time schedule – or can be agreed to be “reasonable” with both parents flexibly sharing the time the child is in their care.
Parenting Time and Visitation
Parenting Time is the word that is now used by Courts to refer to the “Visitation” that the non-custodial parent has with their children. Parenting time should be established in the Order of Divorce / Divorce Judgment.
Custody and Parenting Time (Visitation) can be changed any time both parties agree (with some exceptions such as “supervised visitation” situations). If parents are agreeable and flexible, they can always “swap weekends” or make other flexible arrangements that are temporary or permanent. But if the change is going to be permanent, both parties should put the change in writing and enter it with the Court. A Custody or visitation Order is never officially changed until it is entered with the Court.
When parties cannot agree upon custody or parenting time, a Motion must be filed and the Judge will decide who gets custody as well as the amount of parenting time the other parent receives.
In Michigan, a Judge considers 12 factors when determining child custody:
(1.) Love and emotional ties between parent and child;
(2.) The parents’ capacity to give guidance, education and religion;
(3.) The parents’ capacity to provide a home environment, food, clothing, medical care and other material needs;
(4.) The length of time the child has lived in a stable environment with the parent(s);
(5.) The permanence as a family unit;
(6.) Each parents “Moral Fitness” (i.e., character, such as: drug usage, criminal record, drinking, etc.);
(7.) Each parents’ mental and physical health;
(8.) The child’s home, school and community record;
(9.) Reasonable preference of child (But, only if the child is old enough; and, if other factors such as “moral fitness” or “home environment” are also satisfied);
(10.) The parents’ willingness to keep a close, continuing relationship between child and the other parent;
(11.) Any domestic violence by either parent; and,
(12.) Any other factor that the Court considers relevant!
Please note that #12 (“any other factor that the Court considers relevant”) is a huge thing to keep in mind. This means that the judge has very broad discretion. For example, if you spank your child and your spouse does not, the Court may consider your discipline too severe by today’s standards and favor your spouse. Or, if your spouse allows your 12 year old daughter to date, but you do not approve of this, the judge may favor you because you are more protective of the child.
So, always striving to be the very best parent you can be – and putting your child’s needs ahead of your own – is not only best for your child, but will also improve your chances of obtaining custody, or at least getting very liberal Visitation (parenting time).
Because of the complexity of Michigan’s custody law, only an experienced lawyer can fully explain your custody rights and how the law applies to your situation.