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Child Custody Attorneys in Waterford, Michigan

Whether you are going through a divorce, or whether you are unmarried and have minor children, the family court’s determination of custody is one of the most significant issues in your case.

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One of the first questions divorce clients ask our Waterford & Clarkston child custody lawyers is “Who will get custody of our children?” Generally, but not always, both parents will be awarded joint legal custody; modern family courts favor the co-parenting model.  This means that, just as prior to the divorce or custody proceeding, both parents will have input and responsibility in making all the major decisions affecting their children.

In a sense, the terms lawyers bandy about regarding custody are merely labels. In most cases, joint legal custody vs sole physical custody does not mean that much. The more important aspect of the divorce is the parenting schedule; where do the children sleep at night? That is the real question.

Child custody, as a legal concept, has evolved since the passage in 1970 of the seminal legislation known as “The Child Custody Act”.  Long ago, children were seen by the law as the property of their father.  Once the notion of children-as-chattel was rejected, the concept of “Mother-knows-best” took over.  Moms were often granted “custody” throughout the decades of the 1970s and 1980s.

This gender-based rule-of-thumb has in turn yielded to the current child-based approach of the “best interest” factors; custody is decided by the family court in accord with the best interests of the minor children.

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How Child Custody Is Determined in Michigan

Custody is determined on a case-by-case basis in Michigan. The court will award custody according to the “best interests” of the children and must take the following eleven statutory factors into account:

  • Love, affection and emotional ties of each parent to the children

  • The capacity of each parent to provide love affection and guidance to the children

  • The capacity of each parent to provide the children with food, clothing and medical care

  • The length of time the children have lived in a stable, satisfactory environment

  • Permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home

  • The relative moral fitness of the respective parents

  • The relative physical and mental health of the parents

  • The home, school, and community records of the children

  • The reasonable preference of the children (the older the child, the more weight this factor will have with the court)

  • The willingness or ability of one parent to foster and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the children and the other parent

  • Domestic violence, whether directed against or witnessed by the children

In high-conflict divorces, custody is often disputed. A referral to a series of professional evaluators is often the procedure used to make this determination. Frequently, courts will order that psychological evaluations be conducted on all family members (and sometimes even significant others). These evaluations are often performed by private professionals at additional cost to the parties, or are sometimes performed by court-employed clinicians. If it is truly in the best interests of your children that your spouse not be awarded custody (or, likewise it is in the children’s best interests to minimize parenting time with your spouse), you will want to hire competent legal counsel in order to realize this objective.

Even if you are awarded custody, your spouse probably will be able to obtain reasonable parenting time. In nearly every case, and with rare exceptions, the courts and their staff will encourage some modicum of parenting time for the non-custodial parent. In Michigan, there is a statutory presumption that parenting time with both natural parents is in the best interests of the child. Court-ordered parenting time can be informal, where the parties themselves schedule and execute parenting-time transfers, or can be scheduled for each day up to the minute and can provide for supervised transfers, often at a police station. This depends on the actions and desires of the parents during the divorce.

If there are issues of domestic violence, abuse, neglect, or substance abuse, then supervised parenting time may be necessary. This is usually designed to be a temporary measure where the non-custodial parent exercises parenting time in the presence of an agreed-upon or court-ordered third party. When the non-custodial parent demonstrates adequate parenting skills during the period of supervision, unsupervised parenting time eventually will be ordered by the court.

Like the custody determination, a parenting-time determination is made by the court with consideration of a series of statutory factors. These factors are a similar abbreviated version of the child custody factors set forth above.

Contact an Experienced Waterford & Clarkston Child Custody Lawyer

The court retains jurisdiction over your divorce case during the entire time your children are minors. Therefore, custody and parenting time arrangements are frequently modified by the court when a significant change in circumstance occurs. Since the county-level family courts are literally swamped with post-divorce custody and parenting-time issues, it is advisable to hire a competent attorney to ensure that your matter receives prompt and complete attention from the court.