There are few issues more contentious in a divorce or legal separation than child custody. Each parent has a vested interest in protecting the best interests of their child, and it can be easy to let emotions overrun efforts to work together. This is why judicial intervention is often necessary to provide an unbiased and logical approach to determining what a child custody arrangement should be. However, a recent news story out of Bloomfield Hills describes a case where the judge was alleged of impartiality adding multiple layers of complications to an already difficult case. The mother in the case attempted to have the judge removed, alleging that the judge repeatedly showed favor toward her ex-husband, including ordering the children to a state detention facility after they refused to have lunch with their father. While this is an extreme case of an acrimonious child custody dispute, it serves to highlight how important it is to understand the basic parameters of child custody decisions in Michigan to ensure that your case receives fair treatment. An overview of the child custody system in Michigan follows:
Legal vs. Physical Custody
Ideally, parents reach their own agreement on child custody issues. If this is not possible, a court can intervene and impose its own custodial arrangement under the following guidelines.
There are two types of custody under Michigan law: legal and physical. Legal custody is the authority to make important life decisions for a child. This includes child care, education, and medical decisions. In contrast, physical custody is the amount of actual time each parent spends with the child. It is not a guarantee that both parents will share legal and physical custody of the child. Thus, even though the parties may share physical custody, only one parent may have legal custody and vice versa. Most often, joint custody is the likely outcome unless it is clearly against the best interest of the child. When determining a custodial arrangement, a court must focus on the ability of the parents to work together when making decisions affecting their child as the guiding factor.
Best Interest of the Child
Any decision about child custody – whether it is the division of parenting time or who should decide which school the child will attend – is driven by the mandate of what is in the best interest of the child. Michigan law lists a number of factors a court must consider when deciding custody issues. These factors represent what the best interest of the child means under the law. These factors include:
- “Love, affection and other emotional ties” between a parent and child;
- The ability and willingness of parent to raise a child with “love, affection and guidance”;
- The ability of each parent to clothe, feed and provide medical care to the child;
- The mental and physical health of each parent;
- The moral fitness of each parent; and
- The willingness of each parent to support and foster a close relationship between the child and other parent.
A Child’s Input
A court may consider the preference of the child as one factor in its decision about which parent should have custody, but the weight the child’s preference is given is dictated by the age of the child and whether the preference is reasonable. If a judge determines that the child is of an age and maturity to understand the proceedings and has consistently expressed the same preference over time, the court is likely to give the child’s wishes more deference than if the child is not yet of the age to make such a decision logically and/or had not expressed a consistent preference.
Speak with a Michigan Child Custody Attorney
Decisions about the custody of your child are some of the most important in any divorce proceeding. In order to safeguard your interests and those of your family, it is important to work with an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through this process. The law firm of Iafrate & Salassa, P.C., in Clinton Township, has decades of experience representing clients in divorce and related matters. Contact them today to schedule your free consultation.