There’s nothing more rewarding than being a parent. It’s also extraordinarily difficult, even when you’re in a two-parent household. When you and your child’s other parent divorce or split up, or never lived together to begin with, you have to come up with a co-parenting plan. You have to figure out how you’ll both foster relationships with your child while maintaining separate households.
Lansing child custody lawyer Tiffany DeBruin can help you get the best child custody schedule for your family, whether you agree to a schedule with the other parent, go through mediation or rely on the courts. Call DeBruin Law PLLC at (517) 324-4303 or submit your information through our online form. We offer free consultations.
How Child Custody Is Decided in Michigan
There are several ways you and your child’s other parent can get a child custody order:
- You and your child’s other parent can create a co-parenting schedule together and ask the judge to approve it.
- You and your child’s other parent can use mediation to reach a child custody resolution, which the judge can approve or deny.
- The judge can analyze the best interests of the child and determine an appropriate sole or joint custody arrangement.
Michigan’s Child Custody Law
You can find Michigan’s Child Custody Act in the Michigan Compiled Laws, Sections 722.21-31.
Types of Custody in Michigan
Michigan does not presume one parent is better suited to have custody than another. There’s no presumption in favor of granting custody to mothers over fathers. Although, if a non-parent is involved in the child custody battle, the court does presume it’s in the child’s best interests to give a parent custody unless there’s clear evidence to the contrary.
Sole vs. Joint Custody
Courts typically consider joint custody in the child’s best interests unless there’s a reason to give one parent sole custody. Joint custody means the parents divide their child’s physical time between their two households. It might be close to a 50/50 split, or one parent might have more time than the other. Sole custody means one parent has the child in their home a majority of the time, and the other parent has limited parenting time.
Legal vs. Physical Custody
There’s a difference between legal and physical custody of a child in Michigan. Physical custody determines which parent has a right to have the child in their household at a given time. Legal custody determines who has decision-making authority over the child. Joint custody in Michigan typically means sharing both physical and legal custody of your child. But if a parent is given sole custody, they might also have the sole power to make decisions about the child’s education, medical care, religion and daily needs.
Defining the Best Interests of the Child
When a judge is responsible for deciding child custody, they’ll analyze the best interest of the child. Section 722.23 sets out several factors for a judge to consider, though it’s not an exhaustive list. The judge can consider any factor they believe is relevant to your child custody case.
Best interests of the child include:
- Love, affection and emotional ties between each parent and the child.
- The ability of the parents to give the child love, affection, and guidance.
- The ability of the parents to continue the child’s education and religious education, if any.
- The ability of the parents to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care and other material needs.
- Length of time the child has lived in a stable home and the benefit of continuity.
- The permanence of the existing or proposed custodial home.
- Each parent’s moral fitness.
- Each parent’s mental and physical health.
- The child’s home, school and community.
- The child’s reasonable preference if they’re old enough to express a preference.
- Each parent’s willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.
- Any history of domestic violence, whether or not the violence was against the child or the child witnessed it.
Are Your Child’s Interests Represented in Court?
If you or the court are worried about whether your child’s interests are being represented in court, the judge can appoint a lawyer-guardian ad litem. This person represents the child. They will interview you, the other parent and other people involved in the child’s life. They’ll get to know the situation. Then, they’ll file a written report with the court regarding what is in the child’s best interests. Parents are generally responsible for paying the cost of the GAL.
Parenting Time in Michigan (Visitation)
Michigan courts presume it’s in a child’s best interests to have a good relationship with both parents. Because of this, it’s rare for a parent not to get any time with their child. Even if you aren’t awarded joint custody, you have a right to parenting time, which used to be called visitation. The judge will give you the amount of parenting time they believe is necessary to help you nurture a close relationship with your child.
Based on Section 722.27a, the judge looks at several factors when determining parenting time including:
- Any special circumstances or needs of the child.
- Whether the child is younger than 6 months old and nursing, or less than one year old and gets substantial nutrition through nursing.
- The reasonable likelihood a parent will abuse or neglect the child during their parenting time.
- The reasonable likelihood of abuse of a parent because of receiving parenting time.
- The inconvenience or burden of the child traveling between the parent’s two households for parenting time.
- Whether a parent can reasonably be expected to fulfill their parenting time duties based on the court order.
- Whether a parent has frequently failed to have their parenting time.
- A parent’s threat or actual detention of the child with the intent to keep or hide the child from the other parent or person with legal custody.
Benefits of Using Mediation to Decide a Coparenting Schedule
Michigan courts prefer when parents can decide child custody themselves for several reasons. Parents know what’s best for their children. You can come up with a schedule that’s customized to your family’s needs. The hope is that a schedule you’ve created for your family will cause fewer conflicts in the future.
Using mediation can save parents time and money because it keeps you and your child custody lawyer out of court. Child custody mediation also lightens the court’s load. The courts would be overly burdened if each family relied on the judge to decide child custody and parenting time. An added benefit is that mediation sessions are private, unlike public court hearings. Going through mediation can keep your family discussions out of the public record.
What Is Mediation for Child Custody?
Mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution, which means you and the other parent try to resolve your issue outside of court. During mediation, you, the other parent and your attorneys will meet once or several times with a neutral third party. Mediators are trained professionals who help keep you and the conversation on track and try hard to reach a resolution. But mediators don’t make any decisions or give the court recommendations. They only help you communicate.
Is Mediation Required?
Mediation is not always required during a child custody case. You and your child’s other parent can voluntarily go through mediation, or the judge can order you to try mediation before they would decide on child custody. Mediation can be helpful, but it isn’t appropriate for everyone. Mediation is not appropriate if the other parent emotionally or physically abused you or the child, or the other parent neglected your child.
Child Support Is Separate from Child Custody
Both parents are required to financially support their child no matter who has custody. If you end up sharing joint custody, you’re both still financially responsible. One parent might need to pay support to the other, depending on how much time you each have with your child and your income. Talk with your lawyer about how Michigan courts decide child support and how it relates to your parenting schedule.
Is Paternity an Issue in Your Child Custody Case?
Only once you establish paternity can you get a child custody or child support order. You can establish paternity voluntarily or involuntarily in Michigan. If you were married when your child was born, the law presumes the husband is the child’s father. When you’re unmarried at the time of your child’s birth, then the father can voluntarily sign an affidavit acknowledging paternity or can immediately submit to a genetic test. Then, the father’s name can go on the birth certificate. If your child’s father hasn’t acknowledged paternity, we can file a case and ask the court to require him to submit to a DNA test.
Grandparent Visitation in Michigan
Grandparents in Michigan can petition for a right to visitation with a grandchild. This is for limited situations in which the grandparents are part of a child’s daily life until their child’s death or divorce, and then the other parent doesn’t want to help the grandparent maintain a relationship with their grandchild. But it’s hard for grandparents to win visitation because courts presume parents know what’s best for their child, including limiting contact with one or more grandparents. Grandparents have to show a court that visitation is in the child’s best interests, and the parent is unfit in some way to parent.
Modifying Your Child Custody Order
Your child’s needs and your family’s circumstances will change over time. That’s only natural. If you need your child’s custody order to change, then we can return to court and ask for a modification. Parents can work on modifying their parenting plan together, or one parent can ask the judge to decide. But a judge won’t approve of changing a child custody order for no reason. You need to show there’s proper cause to alter the existing order and a change of circumstance and that a new schedule is in your child’s best interests.
What to Do During Your Child Custody Case
We realize child custody cases can make you frustrated and anxious. You’re worried about keeping your child safe, happy and healthy. You and your child’s other parent might not see eye-to-eye on how to do that.
DeBruin Law is here to help you get the best situation for your child. That takes time. During your case, we recommend you:
- Follow the court order.
- If you and your other parent are currently sharing custody without a court order, create a reasonable schedule for your children.
- Exercise your parenting time to the fullest extent.
- Only involve law enforcement if your child is in physical danger, such as by a parent or other person’s abuse or neglect.
- Don’t bad mouth the other parent in front of your children, to shared friends and family, or online.
- Keep a record of parent-child interactions, including who manages the child’s schedule and daily needs and who attends important appointments and events.
- Look at the bigger picture – are your child’s physical, cognitive, and emotional needs being met?
Talk with a Lansing Child Custody Lawyer Today
Your situation doesn’t have to turn into a contentious child custody battle. With an experienced lawyer by your side, you can work with your other parent to develop the best parenting plan for your family. But if your child’s other parent isn’t cooperating or fit for joint custody, we’re also prepared to go to court and ask a judge to award you sole custody. Send us your information online or call (517) 324-4303 to set up your free consultation with DeBruin Law PLLC.