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Fathers See Gains in County Family Courts

Clarkston Legal June 22, 2011

Do the regularly maintained statistics support the contention that fathers are getting more time with their children in family courts? To borrow a lyric from the 70’s band, Boston, “it’s more than a feeling“.

Divorce records maintained by the Michigan Department of Community Health reflect a trend that family law professionals have observed, and perhaps helped influence; fathers with joint custody and equal parenting time.

While family law attorneys will no doubt acknowledge this trend, hard statistics are difficult to garner. Custody is still decided on a “case-by-case”, county by county, basis.

The form used by MDCH to collect information about divorces has a field to designate custody of minor children involved in a case. The person completing the form, usually an attorney, selects from the basic options of joint custody, or designates custody to mother, or father.

Per usual, however, the devil is in the details. For many practicing family law, the formal custody designation set forth in a judgment of divorce or custody order is merely a label, and a poor one at that.

Joint legal custody is usually a given; an accepted starting point. Physical custody, however, is a more contentious battlefield. The phrase “physical custody” does not even appear in the Michigan Child Custody Act; it is a mechanism used by family law attorneys and family court judges to identify a custodial parent.

The more significant provision is the parenting schedule set forth in the judgment. Not only does that schedule establish how much actual contact the minor children get with each parent, it also determines the child support obligation for each parent.

Purely anecdotal evidence from our recent divorce cases is consistent with the trend that Fathers are awarded joint custody (legal and physical) more often and, roughly, equal parenting time. One size, however, does not fit all.

An article titled Throwaway Dads, from the Michigan Bar Journal from 10-years ago, decrying a gender bias against fathers, provides an interesting barometer relative to the climate change in Michigan’s county family courts.

There must be good reasons to establish where the children of a divorce will live, and even better reasons to limit them from the home of one of their parents. Focusing on the parenting schedule rather than the custody label is the real trend at work here.