Michigan Child Custody

Child custody can be one of the most difficult issues for parents with minor children who are divorcing, or never-married parents of young children. Understanding how child custody is viewed in Michigan, and knowing what to expect from a custody proceeding, can make the process much easier.

First of all, what do we mean when we talk about “custody?” In Michigan, custody is divided into physical custody and legal custody. As you might expect, “physical custody” refers to where the child physically resides. This may be with one parent, but often, a child will live with both parents. Increasingly, though, the term “physical custody” is being abandoned in favor of the term “parenting time.” Rather than labeling one parent as a child’s “custodial parent,” the phrase “parenting time” more accurately reflects the reality that the child has a home with both parents.

Then there is “legal custody.” Legal custody refers to which parent gets to make major decisions for a child, such as about their education, health care, and religious upbringing. The State of Michigan believes that it is usually in a child’s best interest to have both parents deeply involved in their lives and making these decisions jointly. Therefore, Michigan courts consider granting joint legal custody if either parent requests it, and most custody orders provide for joint legal custody unless the court makes a finding that this is not best for the child.

Blume Law Group represents Michigan parents in initial child custody determinations and in motions to enforce or modify a child custody order.

Parenting Time Schedules

Every family is different, with different needs and different work, school, and activity schedules. It is usually preferable for parents to decide for themselves on a parenting time schedule that works for them and their children. When parents work together to create a schedule (with their attorneys’ help if necessary), they can customize it in a way that works best for them and their children, and in a way that a court might not come up with.

Depending on the circumstances, that schedule could be configured in a number of ways. Parents might split time with their children 50/50, such as by having the children spend alternate weeks at each home. One parent might have extended weekends with the children while they stay with the other parent midweek; this can be a good option when one parent works weekends and the other does not. Then there is the schedule in which one parent sees the children one evening every week and every other weekend. If the parents live far apart, the children may spend most of the summer and holiday breaks with one parent while staying with the other parent while school is in session.

As long as the parents propose a schedule that is in the best interests of their children, the court is likely to adopt it. If the parents are unable to agree, the court may order a parenting time schedule recommended by the Friend of the Court.

Friend of the Court

Each county’s Circuit Court in Michigan has a Friend of the Court office. Among its other duties, the Friend of the Court investigates and makes recommendations to the court regarding child custody, parenting time, and child support.

Most divorces and child custody cases in Michigan require the parents to meet with the Friend of the Court early in the process. The Friend of the Court can help parents resolve disputes through alternative dispute resolution (ADR), but they do not offer parents legal advice. It is highly recommended that the parties have an attorney to advise them on all of the issues involved in a custody matter.

In some cases, parents who agree on how they want to handle custody, child support, and parenting time can “opt out” of Friend of the Court Services, but it is best to make this important decision in consultation with your attorney.

Initial Michigan Child Custody Determinations

In Michigan, as in most states, child custody is determined according to what would be in the “best interests of the child.” If parents agree on a custody arrangement, courts will generally approve the agreement as long as it appears to be in the child’s best interests.

If parents cannot reach an agreement regarding child custody, the court will make a determination with the Friend of the Court’s input. Michigan courts must consider all of the following factors, found in Michigan Compiled Laws section 722.23, when making a child custody determination. These factors are commonly referred to as the twelve “best interests” 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 to continue 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 considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference;
  • The willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parents. A court may not consider negatively for the purposes of this factor any reasonable action taken by a parent to protect a child or that parent from sexual assault or domestic violence by the child's other parent.
  • Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child;
  • Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

It is important to present all of the evidence that supports your position to the court in a Michigan child custody dispute. Once a court has made a custody determination, it is very difficult to change. Having an attorney who is experienced in child custody disputes is essential.

Modification of Child Custody in Michigan

Your initial custody order may have been issued by the court when your child was very young, which means that you and your child’s other parent will be subject to a child custody order for many years. Or it could be that circumstances are changing quickly even though an order was only recently entered with the court. Many things in your life, and in your child’s life, may change after the initial custody order is entered, causing your original custody arrangement to no longer work and leaving you needing to modify your custody order.

It is not easy to modify a child custody order in Michigan. It’s important for children to have stability in their lives, and frequent custody changes run counter to that goal. Therefore, unless parents can agree on a modification, courts will not order a change of custody unless the Vodvarka standard is met.

The Vodvarka standard is named after Vodvarka v. Grasmeyer, the Michigan case in which it was first applied. The Vodvarka court ruled that in order to modify an “established custodial environment,” there must either be proper cause or a change of circumstances since the previous custody order was entered. The parent seeking the modification must show the existence of proper cause or a change of circumstances by a preponderance of the evidence just to get the court to agree to examine what type of change might be necessary.

What constitutes “proper cause” or a sufficient “change in circumstances” is somewhat subjective, but when changing custody, it must be more than normal life changes that occur as a child grows. As with an initial custody determination, the help of an experienced family law attorney makes a big difference in presenting your position and evidence to the court.

Macomb County Child Custody Attorney

As a parent, you want the best for your children during and after your divorce. At Blume Law Group we are committed to helping you achieve that goal. Attorney Sean Blume has spent his entire legal career looking out for the best interests of Michigan children. Blume Law Group represents parents in Michigan custody matters in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and St. Clair counties. We invite you to contact our office to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to working with you.