Child Custody Decisions in Michigan

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 How Have Michigan's Courts Decided on Child Custody Cases?

Suppose the parents of a child cannot reach a mutual agreement regarding the custody of their child after divorce or separation. In that case, the courts in Michigan will decide custody rights and responsibilities based on what is in the child’s best interests.

How Is the Primary Residence of a Child Determined?

To determine the child’s best interest, custody will be determined by analyzing the following factors:

  • The child’s emotional ties to both parents
  • Involvement in school, at home, and in the community
  • The moral fitness of the parties, including previous criminal convictions
  • Parents’ willingness to maintain a relationship with the other parent
  • Previous incidents of domestic violence, abuse, or kidnapping (including incidents not directly involving the child but which the child witnessed)
  • The financial and economic capacity of parents to provide their children with basic necessities

What Is the Child’s Best Interests Standard in Child Custody Law?

Child custody laws vary by state, but Michigan courts consider the “Child’s Best Interest Standard” when regarding the custody and visitation rights of a child, which includes (but is not limited to) the following factors:

  • The child’s background, including age, gender, and mental and physical health;
  • The child’s preference, if they are of a certain age of maturity, usually 12-14 years or older;
  • Environmental concerns such as quality of schools, community safety, and extra-curricular opportunities;
  • The health and maturity of each parent;
  • The degree of each parent’s willingness to facilitate contact between the child and the other party;
  • Whether there are any siblings or important family members involved; and
  • Social background and lifestyle of each parent.

What Types of Factors Are Considered by the Michigan Court?

When resolving child custody in a family court setting, courts will consider many factors that might impact the child’s well-being. These factors, of course, will be counterbalanced against the child’s best interest standard to ensure that the custody decisions do not damage or negatively impact the child or children in any way.

Some common child custody factors used by courts in a divorce or legal separation context may include:

  • Each parent’s relationship and history of interactions with the child;
  • Whether one parent has been the primary caretaker of the child;
  • The child’s background and adjustment to their home, school, and neighborhood;
  • The mental and physical health of the child, as well as the parents;
  • Whether the child has any specific health, medical, or psychological/emotional needs;
  • The wishes of the parents (if both parents agree to a particular custody arrangement, the court will usually choose that arrangement);
  • The child’s wishes (if the parents cannot agree on a custody arrangement, the courts will give substantial weight to the child’s preferences);
  • The overall preferences of the child, particularly if they are above a certain age (this age may differ by state).

So, for example, if the child has special medical needs, the court will factor this into their decision concerning custody. One parent might be more familiar with the child’s special needs and therefore may be granted more custody rights than the other parent.

Is There Anything Else I Should be Aware of?

The state of Michigan encourages joint custody if at all possible before awarding full custody to one parent. Nevertheless, if the court decides that joint custody is not in the child’s best interest, it will take into account the factors outlined above.

Unlike other states, Michigan also allows parents to provide information on their financial status when arguing for full custody.

What Happens After the Court Has Made a Decision?

Once the judge has made a decision as to the custody arrangements, the order will be signed and filed with a court clerk to be kept in the court records for future reference.

In the event of a violation of the custody order, the violating parent may become subject to civil or even criminal consequences, which can include fines and/or a modification of the agreement. Both parents will be bound by the child custody order.

What If a Child Custody Order Is Violated?

Child custody laws are treated very seriously and can be enforced quite rigidly. Any court orders involving child custody are binding under the law and need to be obeyed by all the parties involved. One of the primary concerns is that the protection and well-being of a child may be compromised if one of the parents disregards the instructions of a custody order.

Violating a court child custody order may result in severe consequences:

  • Non-violating parents could petition the court for enforcement of the order.
  • Violating parents may need to appear in court and justify why they violated the court order.
  • The court could find the violating parent in contempt of court, leading to jail time.
  • The violating parent could also lose custody rights once granted by the court.

Can Child Custody Rights Be Changed?

Yes, child custody rights often need to change and be adjusted over time as the circumstances change for the child and the individual parents. For example, child custody may move from a sole custody arrangement to a more shared custody arrangement if one parent can demonstrate that they have become fit to engage in more duties.

Child custody rights can be lost if the parent engages in inappropriate conduct for the child or if they become incapacitated or imprisoned. The parties can also file a request to modify an existing custody order as needed.

What Are the Factors That Courts Cannot Use to Decide Child Custody?

There are also certain factors that the courts cannot use in determining child custody. These may be due to other related regulations, such as discrimination laws, that interact with child custody laws and must be obeyed.

Some factors that courts can’t use in a custody determination include:

  • Race: Courts normally cannot form a custody determination based on whether one parent is of a certain race or if they are dating a person of a certain race. Racial background is normally not used in custody decisions unless it can be shown that consideration of race would benefit the child;
  • Religion: Courts are generally not permitted to base child custody arrangements on religious matters or preferences. There may, however, be exceptions in cases where the child is being abused or placed in danger by specific religious practices;
  • Gender: Traditionally, family courts automatically awarded child custody (or a majority of the custody) to the mother, assuming that the mother was the primary caretaker for the children. Nevertheless, this has changed in recent times, and courts now concentrate on a more comprehensive set of factors to resolve child custody and custodial parent arrangements;
  • Disability: Just because a parent has a legally-recognized disability does not automatically preclude them from obtaining child custody. Rather, courts will look into whether the disability would stop the parent from performing their parental duties if they were granted custody.

Do I Need to Consult a Michigan Lawyer About My Custody Issues?

Due to the fact that Michigan encourages joint custody, you should hire an attorney to represent you as you negotiate and speak with the other party. A Michigan child custody lawyer will be able to inform and update you regarding the various Michigan laws governing child custody orders.

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