If you are going through a divorce in Michigan and you have children, it is crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of how child custody agreements are determined. Familiarizing yourself with the child custody decision process will enable you to be fully prepared and well-informed when the time comes to make decisions regarding the care of your children in the years ahead.
The experienced child custody attorneys at Clarity Family Law in Dearborn, Michigan are available to assist you in understanding the legal rights of parents and in organizing a custody agreement between parents. We offer legal assistance for divorce and child custody cases, providing support and guidance throughout the process to help ease the burden.
Legal Custody and Physical Custody
Legal custody and physical custody are two types of guardianship rights that parents can hold when raising their children. Legal custodians typically have the right to make important decisions about their children’s education, religion, and medical treatment. These decisions are important as they will affect a child's future and physical health in many ways. On the other hand, physical custody pertains to where the child lives - either with one parent or shared between two parents—and who is responsible for providing care for them and has the decision-making authority.
When discussing legal or physical custodianship rights, it is important to consider whether the custodianship will be sole custody or a joint custody arrangement. Sole legal custody and physical custodianship means only one parent has all rights when it comes to raising their children while joint custody suggests an equal sharing of responsibilities between both parents.
However, even if the parents share joint legal custodianship of their children, this does not mean that they must split physical custody equally and vice versa. Parents may wish to discuss these child custody issues with a child custody attorney or mediator to reach an amicable agreement on custody arrangements.
Factors a Michigan Judge Looks at When Deciding Custody
When Michigan judges make an initial custody determination, they must weigh a variety of factors. These factors are based on the best interests of the minor children and attempt to provide an optimal environment for their physical, emotional, and educational development.
The primary factor is the existing love, affection, and emotional health ties between the parents and the child. This relationship speaks to the capacity and dispositions of each parent in providing love, affection, and guidance. It also demonstrates their ability to provide necessities like food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or remedial care.
Continuity is another important factor judges consider when deciding child custody cases. The length of time that a child has lived in a stable home environment is evidence that he or she has acclimated to their surroundings with consistency can be maintained without disruption. Demonstrating stability means creating an opportunity for happiness during this difficult transition regardless of which parent ultimately gains sole custody.
Getting an Initial Custody and Parenting Time Order
When a couple with children files for divorce in Michigan, the court will create an initial custody and parenting time order. This order lays out the legal rights and responsibilities of each parent regarding the care, custody, and financial support of their children. It also details how parenting time (visitation) will be divided between the two parents. The court will take into account several factors when determining custody, such as the established custodial environment, the best interest factor, and the type of parenting time.
Established Custodial Environment
Established custodial environment (ECE) refers to the current living arrangement of a child with one or both parents. According to the law, there must be stability in custody arrangements for children, meaning any changes would require evidence that is convincing to a judge.
To determine if there is an ECE present between the guardians and the child, a judge will inspect what kind of lifestyle the child currently has. This includes which parent or parents are providing food, housing, love and affection, and other necessities they may need.
Other factors that are considered in an ECE decision are whether or not the child has been in their current arrangement for a long enough period to create an established environment with their guardian(s). This environmental factor is key when determining child custody arrangements; it can be tough for someone to try and change something that worked perfectly fine before. Thus, establishing an ECE is extremely important when deciding upon custody rights for a child.
The Best Interest Factors
The best interest of the child is of utmost priority when a family court makes decisions regarding custody and parenting time. To determine what is in the best interest of the child, the judge must evaluate several factors.
The first factor includes evaluating the love, affection, and emotional ties between parties involved in providing care for the child. This includes any parents or guardians currently caring for them and other family members who might influence a case.
Other factors taken into account are the length of time the child has already lived in a satisfactory environment. On the other hand, if the child has experienced domestic violence in a previous living arrangement, they will immediately be moved. Lastly, the judge will take into account if the parent awarded primary custody can financially support the child which includes health care
All these relevant factors ultimately serve to help inform decisions made within legal judgments concerning custody and visitation rights, placing great emphasis on this best interest test to protect those rights of children at stake.
In Michigan, this time allotted to each parent is referred to as parenting time. Parenting time is a key way for parents to maintain healthy relationships with their children if the parents do not live together. Generally, when one party receives sole physical custody, they will have a substantial amount of parenting time with the child while the other parent will have less. However, in joint physical custody arrangements, the two parents often have equal or nearly equal amounts of parenting time with their child.
This can either be dictated by a specific parenting schedule that covers frequent designated dates and times or granted as “reasonable parenting time” upon which the two parents work out their own mutually agreeable arrangement instead of trial court intervention.
In cases where reasonable parenting time has been granted, there can be disagreements about the parenting schedule that may lead to disputes between multiple parties involved. When such issues arise it may become necessary for one or both of the parties to file motions requesting a judge decide on an appropriate resolution for the parenting time agreement. On the other hand, when pre-scheduled hours are mandated, all disputing parties must adhere strictly and litigiously to follow the parenting time arrangement without deviation until amending such a document at a later date.
Modifying a Michigan Child Custody or Visitation Order
There are various methods available if you wish to make changes to a child custody arrangement or visitation schedule. To modify the custody order, it is necessary to provide sufficient evidence demonstrating a valid cause.
Proper Cause or Change of Circumstances
When filing a motion to change a final custody order or visitation plan, it is important to understand that the judge must determine whether there is either proper cause or a change of circumstances significant enough to justify and necessitate a reexamination. The judge cannot consider revisiting the custody arrangement unless presented with evidence of this change or proof of cause.
Proper cause or change of circumstances must be something out of the ordinary that has a considerable effect on the child's well-being. It should not refer only to everyday life changes that are encountered such as minor illnesses or everyday inconveniences, but factors that would have an enduring negative impact on their well-being if left unchanged.
After showing proper cause or genuine evidence of changed circumstances, then and only then may the judge consider what is in the best interests of the child when determining their custody arrangements.
Evidence Needed to Change Custody
When a person wishes to modify or change an existing custody plan, they must be able to demonstrate that there is an extraordinary change of circumstance in the case. In such situations, the judge must determine if the best interests of the child will be served by altering the current agreement.
If the court finds that there is an extraordinary change of circumstances, a higher standard of proof is needed to allow this change in a custody situation. This must be shown through clear and convincing evidence that effectively demonstrates why it would benefit both parties if the modification were enacted.
If, however, the court finds that there is no valid reason to change custody, then those seeking a change in custody must prove by way of preponderance of evidence that such a switch would ultimately achieve what is best for their child.
In either event, all convincing documentation about any changes within family unit dynamics should be presented before any decisions can be made regarding what is considered fair and just as far as child custody is concerned.
Speak to an Experienced Child Custody Lawyer Today!
If you're considering a divorce in Michigan, you must understand how child custody is determined. Understanding the process of determining custody can help you be fully prepared and informed when it comes time to decide how your children will be cared for in the future.
The first step to understanding how a child custody dispute is settled in Michigan is to speak with an experienced lawyer. A lawyer can provide you with the necessary information and guidance to ensure that your rights are protected and can help you in child custody hearings.
Furthermore, hiring a lawyer can protect you from a lengthy custody battle and make sure you understand Michigan child custody laws. Contact Clarity Family Law today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced lawyer regarding your case to prioritize your children's well-being and achieve the best possible outcome.