A relationship break-up is an emotionally painful and stressful time for any couple. When children are involved it can be even more upsetting as decisions must be made regarding child custody. At the heart of all child custody decisions is doing what is in the best interests of the child. If parents can’t agree on a co-parenting arrangement that is best for the child, the courts will follow state law to make the appropriate determinations regarding custody and parenting time.
Although you will want to work with a family law attorney to steer you through these issues, it may be helpful to have this guide to child custody to familiarize yourself with the subject. Attorney Tiffany DeBruin at DeBruin Law PLLC in Lansing, Michigan can answer your questions and make sure your rights are fully protected when custody issues arise. Call (517) 324-4303 today for an appointment to discuss your child custody needs.
Understanding Child Custody
When facing the end of a relationship, whether married or living together, you may be overwhelmed with decisions that need to be made regarding settlement of marital or jointly owned property, spousal and child support, or establishing a new residence. If you and your partner can agree on some of these matters, the process is smoother and typically less expensive and time-consuming. The same is true for child custody. The best-case scenario is if you and the child’s other parent can agree on custody and parenting time (also known as visitation). But when agreement can’t be found, a court will fashion a custody and parenting time arrangement.
State law on child custody is set forth in Michigan Compiled Laws Chapter 722, specifically Sections 722.21-31. It is important to note that child custody is a two-fold question: physical and legal. If the parties can’t agree, then the court will determine physical custody (where the child lives) and legal custody (who makes the decisions on behalf of the child, such as medical and educational).
The two primary custody types are:
- Sole – one parent is awarded physical custody, so the child lives primarily with that parent. Legal custody could be shared, which would allow for the non-custodial parent to have a say in decision-making regarding the child’s well-being. In these cases, often the non-custodial parent is granted parenting time.
- Joint (or Shared) – both parents share physical and legal custody. There is typically a shared parenting plan that spells out the schedule, including holidays and school vacations.
The focus of the court when child custody is contested is what is in the best interests of the child. To help make this determination, Chapter 722.23 sets forth several factors for the court to consider:
- The love and affection between the parties and child.
- The ability of the parties to continue to love, guide, educate, and raise the child in a chosen religion or creed.
- The capacity of the parties to provide basic needs of food, clothing, and medical care.
- How long the child has lived in a “stable, satisfactory environment.”
- If the proposed custodial home has permanence.
- Moral fitness of the parties.
- Mental and physical health of the parties.
- What record the child has at home, school, and in the community.
- If the child is of sufficient age to inquire, what the child’s preference is as to custody.
- Will the parties work together to encourage a close parenting relationship with the other parent. (Not a factor if sexual assault or domestic violence is at issue.)
- Any domestic violence instance, whether directed at or witnessed by the child.
- Any other factor the court considers relevant.
To help determine the best interests of the child, sometimes the court will appoint a lawyer-guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the child. The GAL may file a written report and recommendation with the court regarding custody based upon interviews with the child. The GAL may also visit a child in the residence or school as part of preparing a recommendation.
Once a court has determined a child custody matter, the parties are expected to abide by the court’s order. If you disagree with the outcome, there is an appeal process. Should your child custody arrangement work for a while but circumstances change, you can seek a modification of the order. Appeals and modifications require an experienced family law attorney who will work to protect your parental rights.
Let Us Help You with Child Custody
Ending relationships can be one of the hardest times of your life and when children are involved, even more so. Less than amicable break-ups can make it difficult to come to an agreement with the other parent regarding child custody. Attorney DeBruin understands the complex problems involved with delicate familial relationships during these stressful times. Call us today at (517) 324-4303 for an appointment to discuss your child custody case.