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Understanding Child Custody in Michigan

Clarkston Legal Sept. 13, 2019

grandparent-rightsUnder Michigan law, custody, parenting time, and other divorce-related decisions about the children must be in the children’s best interests. Most parents agree with this broad principle, but they disagree on specific points. “The devil,” as they say, “is in the details.” Additionally, some parents confuse concepts like the best interests of the children and the wishes of the children or the best interests of the parent.

Section 722.23 of the Child Custody Act sets out eleven factors judges must consider in custody cases. Waterford & Clarkston family law attorneys negotiate within the “best interest” factors  during settlement negotiations. Judges may not approve a plan that does not address all 11 statutory custody factors. The proof is in the proverbial pudding.

Family court judges consider the following factors when parents cannot agree on a custody arrangement:

(a) The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.

(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.

(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.

(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.

(e) The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.

(f) The moral fitness of the parties involved.

(g) The mental and physical health of the parties involved.

(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.

(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.

(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. A court may not consider negatively for the purposes of this factor any reasonable action taken by a parent to protect a child or that parent from sexual assault or domestic violence by the child’s other parent.

(k) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.

(l) Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

Emotional Ties Between Parent and Child

Many times, children feel closer to one parent. Even though parenting roles overlap, many families feature  a “breadwinning” spouse and a “caregiving” spouse.  The greater the overlap between these two roles, the less weight is given this factor by the family law professionals.

Capacity and Disposition of Each Parent

In a similar vein, some parents lack good parenting skills, both when the children are quite young, or when they are almost adults. Other parents have objective deficits, such as an illness, disability or a substance abuse issue. And, some parents lack the disposition to be full-time caregivers. If one parent has a history of always chosing other activities over school events. Disinterested parents have an uphill custody battle. Most family court professionals recognize that involved co-parenting starts at birth; its not something that can be acquired during a family court proceeding.

Established Custodial Environment.

If the child’s current living environment [an established custodial environment] works reasonably well, judges do not like to disrupt a working family unit.  There is an old saying that “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” So, even if significant issues persist, most judges and family court professionals tend to favor an operating custody arrangement and parenting schedule.

Moral Fitness of Each Parent

This factor harkens back to the disposition and capacity factor mentioned above. But instead of physical characteristics, the moral fitness factor focuses on intangible things. Children need reasonable discipline, and they also need to learn the difference between right and wrong. Some parents are unwilling, or unable, to help their children in these ways.

Also, the recent past of some parents include criminal convictions, infidelity or addiction. These deficits are given some weight in homage to this custody factor.

Child’s Reasonable Preference

Even though under Michigan law, judges consider the preferences of young children, this factor is not as important as some people think. Many children do not like expressing such opinions, because they do not want to choose one parent over another one. Some children fear retribution from one or both parents; some parents condition their approval and even their love on a child’s stated preference to be with that parent.

Finally, the child’s age determines the weight judges and family law professionals place on this factor. A three year old does not have the ability to articulate a meaningful preference; a sixteen year old may not give any heed to a judge’s order that is not aligned with the teen’s immediate desires and interests.

Ability to Co-Parent

“Co-Parenting” is a recent buzzword in family law across the nation. New family laws encourage both parents to take an active role in child rearing. Parents must at least be civil to one another for the children’s sake; this is a bedrock principle. If one parent is unable to adhere to this principle, that parent may have a hard time custody.

History of Violence

The other listed factors are subject to different interpretations and somewhat subjective. But this factor is different. If there are verified allegations of serious physical, emotional, or other abuse, that parent is not qualified as a matter of law. In fact, that parent might also face visitation restrictions. It does not matter if the violence occurred a month previously or a year previously.

Contact an Experienced Lawyer

Michigan’s child custody factors govern child custody decisions. For a confidential consultation with an experienced Waterford & Clarkston child custody attorney, contact Clarkston Legal. We routinely handle matters in Waterford & Clarkston and nearby jurisdictions.