There are few issues in divorce that can create more animosity than decisions around child custody and parenting time. The emotional charge around this topic certainly makes sense when one considers what is at stake, and both parties often have strong opinions about which one is better equipped to handle parenting the majority of time. Michigan courts prefer to order joint custody of children, as it is viewed in the best interest of the child to have both parents actively engaged in parenting and decision-making responsibilities. Sole custody will only be awarded if a court finds the parents cannot work together in best interests of the child, or one parent poses some type of physical or emotional danger to the child. There are two kinds of custody under Michigan law – legal and physical. Legal custody refers to a parent’s ability to make major decisions about the child, such as where the child attends school or receives medical care. Physical custody refers to how much time a child spends in the care of a parent, known as parenting time for legal purposes. Legal and physical custody can be held equally or in favor one parent. A recent news story out of Hamburg Township serves as an example of when a court would almost certainly take away or strictly limit parenting time. A mother took her daughter out of the state against court order and is suspected of suffering from paranoid delusions and other mental health issues.
Parenting time is a crucial aspect of all child custody decisions that is ideally decided between the parents, but if mutual agreement is not possible, a court will step in to make the determination. An overview of how judges decide parenting time in family law matters will be discussed below.
All decisions about parenting time are driven by the best interests of child, and starts from the premise that it is in the child’s best interest to have a strong relationship with both parents. Each parent has a right to parenting time unless there is strong evidence that child will be emotionally, mentally, or physically harmed by contact. All parenting plans must contain terms about the frequency, duration, and type of care a parent will provide, and courts will approve parenting plans presented by the parents if it is in the child’s best interest.
Michigan law directs courts to look at the following factors in parenting time orders:
- special needs or circumstances of the child;
- the likelihood of abuse or neglect during parenting time;
- the inconvenience and negative impact on the child of traveling for parenting time;
- whether a parent will be able abide by the court’s order on this issue;
- whether a parent failed to exercise parenting time in past;
- whether the child is nursing; and
- threatened or actual concealment of a child in order to keep the other parent from exercising legal custody.
In addition, either parent can request specific terms about the exercise of parenting time, such as which parent transport the child and who pays for the transportation costs, limitations on the presence of third parties during parenting time, and a requirement that the child is ready at particular times for transfer to the other parent.
Working out a parenting time schedule is a very important, but also very prone to contention. If you have concerns about parenting time, working with a lawyer can help you achieve the outcome that is best for your family. The Clinton Township law firm of Iafrate & Salassa, P.C. helps clients formulate the parenting plan that is best for them. Contact us for a free consultation.