Sumner PC & Associates
Knowledgeable Child Custody Lawyer in Michigan
Due to the extensive nature of custody disputes and the laws involved, this subject is best left to an in-depth discussion with your attorney. If you are facing child custody proceedings, it’s critical that you consult with a skilled Michigan child custody lawyer as soon as possible. Contact Sumner & Associates, P.C. today for your free child custody lawyer consultation.
This issue is the most emotional and traumatic part of most divorce cases. There is legal custody, i.e., the decision-making part of raising the child; and physical custody, i.e., who physically raises the child. The courts favor joint legal custody so that each parent has an equal voice in making important decisions relating to the child such as medical, educational, religion, etc. There is also sole custody or joint custody under each of these headings. The basis for determining child custody is “the best interests of the child.”
Michigan’s Uniform Child Custody Act
A party involved in a child custody matter should become acquainted with the Child Custody Act. They should also be prepared to discuss the following factors:
- The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
- The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and continuation of the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any.
- 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.
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
- The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
- The moral fitness of the parties involved.
- The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
- The home, school, and community record of the child.
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express a preference.
- The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.
- Domestic violence, whether or not it occurred in the child’s presence.
- Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.
What Happens During a Custody Dispute?
When there are custody disputes, the parents must be advised as to joint custody:
- At the request of either parent, the court shall consider an award of joint custody and shall state why joint custody may or may not be considered by the court. The court shall determine whether joint custody is in the best interest of the child by considering the following factors:
- The factors enumerated above.
- Whether the parents will be able to cooperate and generally agree concerning important decisions affecting the welfare of the child.
- If the parents agree on joint custody, the court shall award joint custody unless the court determines on the record that clear and convincing evidence affecting the welfare of the child dictates otherwise.
- If the court awards joint custody, the court may include in its award a statement regarding when the child shall reside with each parent or may provide that physical custody be shared by the parents in a manner to assure the child continuing contact with both parents.
- During the time the child resides with a parent, that parent shall decide all routine matters concerning the child.
- If there is a dispute regarding residence, the court shall state on the record, in writing, the basis for a residency award.
Joint Custody Doesn’t Eliminate the Responsibility for Child Support
Joint custody shall not eliminate the responsibility for child support. Each parent shall be responsible for child support based on the needs of the child and the actual resources of each parent. If a parent would otherwise be unable to maintain adequate housing for the child and the other parent has sufficient resources, the court may order modified support payments for a portion of housing expenses, even during a period when the child is not residing in the home of the parent receiving support. An order of joint custody, in and of itself, shall not constitute grounds for modifying a support order.
Understanding the Different Types of Custody
The State of Michigan uses the term “physical” custody to mean residential custody. In other words, this parent has right to have that child live with him or her. While in some cases, both parents will have that right, it is more likely than not that the children will spend the week with one of their parents when school is in session.
If the children spend a good amount of time with both parents, this is referred to as “joint physical custody.” Many parents, especially those who live apart but in the same general vicinity, will elect to split time with their kids. The key to making this work is to ensure that there is a routine that everyone can get on board with.
In cases where the children live mostly with one parent, that parent is called the “custodial” parent while the other is the non-custodial parent.
In Michigan, legal custody refers to decision-making power in the child’s life. This can include educational choices, medical choices, and the right of access otherwise confidential paperwork concerning the child. It is common for both parents, regardless of physical custody to jointly share legal custody of over a child.
Of course, parents won’t always see eye to eye on every decision. There will be cases in which one parent prefers one school while the other parent prefers another. There may be other situations in which the parents don’t agree on medical decisions. Still more where the parents don’t agree on religious upbringing.
The question then becomes: How are these resolved?
There are two ways to resolve these matters. The first is between the parents themselves. The second is through the courts. If one parent is intentionally trying to disrupt or block the other parent’s access or decision-making power to the other parent, the court will need to intervene. When this happens, it may result in one or the other parent losing legal custody of the children. This means that they would no longer have decision making power.
Joint legal custody is preferred by the court. There must be some evidence that one parent is ill-suited to have that kind of responsibility for the court to grant sole legal custody to one parent. If you are unsure whether or not you can obtain legal custody, contact a child custody lawyer as soon as possible.
Sole custody, just like joint custody, can be divided into physical and legal custody. For instance, one parent may have sole legal custody of a child but the other parent still has visitation rights. That only means that one parent is allowed to make decisions for the child or access potentially sensitive legal information. Sole physical custody means that the children only live with one parent. This does not preclude the other parent from have legal custody nor visitation rights.
In some cases, one parent will have both sole legal and physical custody of the child. The State of Michigan, like most states, prefers that both parents have decision making power over the children. Therefore, it is in cases like these that court has found some reason to deny one parent custody of the child. This does not, however, mean that the parent does not have access to the children or the right to visit them.
Reasons for this can vary. If two parents simply cannot agree on a direction for the children, one parent may be awarded sole legal and physical custody. In a case like this, the other parent may still have visitation rights. However, in other cases, such as where there is abuse in the home or a history of alcohol or drug abuse, the parent may be denied access or visitation with the child. The parent may be able to earn their right to visit the child back. However, the court will scrutinize their decisions. In cases of abuse, it will be much more difficult. In cases of sexual abuse, it will likely not be possible.
As used in this section, “joint custody” means an order of the court in which one or both of the following is specified:
- That the child shall reside alternately for specific periods with each of the parents.
- That the parents shall share decision-making authority as to the important decisions affecting the welfare of the child.
- Child custody orders are modifiable. The court will consider the time in which the child has lived in a stable custodial environment. It will also consider what is in the best interest of the child. Keep in mind that the child’s preference, though an important factor, is just one factor to be considered in the 11 specific child custody factors cited above.
Pros and Cons of Joint Custody
Joint physical and legal custody is customarily what is best for the children. Ideally, children would have access to both parents and both parents would take an active role in their lives. This, however, presupposes that both parents can work together toward the best interests of the children. When they can’t, it could have a very negative impact on the children. If you are in a difficult situation due to custody constraints, or need to modify and protect your parental rights for any reason, consulting with a child custody lawyer is your best option in doing so.
Talk to a Michigan Child Custody Lawyer
At Sumner & Associates, you will work with a Michigan child custody lawyer that is highly experienced, knowledgeable, and happy to assist you with your child custody case. Contact us today for a free child custody consultation, and ensure your rights are protected. A Sumner & Associates child custody lawyer will take care of the hard part so you can continue providing a suitable living environment during what is most often a stressful period of time, as well as help reduce your risk of losing any rights as a parent or guardian.