Having to deal with child custody issues can be very emotionally draining, as well as a long and frustrating process, regardless if the parents are getting divorced, ending their relationship, or were never in a relationship at all. The state of Michigan takes the best interests of the child involved in the situation very seriously and will make all its decisions based on that premise. When going through a child custody case in this state, there are some things parents should know.

Parenting Plans and Child Custody in Michigan

Family court judges in Michigan will always take preference to parents creating their own parenting plan. Even if the parents are in agreement on how they want to handle the custody of their child or children, they will still need to have the agreement approved by the court system in order for it to become an enforceable act. While some parents can create this plan completely on their own, others opt to use mediation during this process and have a neutral third party help in developing the plan.

When the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding the custody of their child or children, the judge is then responsible for developing one for them. In some cases, the judge will appoint a “referee” to help hear both sides of the case and then make recommendations to the judge about how the parenting plan can be developed to benefit the child or children in the best possible way. Additionally, this referee can evaluate different circumstances that will have a direct impact on the child or children and alert the judge to any potential problems that may arise during the child custody process.

Should the case be particularly heated or contentious, the judge may move to appoint an attorney to represent the child’s best interests, and this attorney will be paid for at the parents’ expense. Generally, the more detailed the parenting plan, whether the parents create it or the judge does, the easier it is to enforce that plan. Parents should also keep in mind that, as their children grow and the circumstances change, modifications to the outlined agreement may need to be made.

What Determines “Best Interests of the Child” in Michigan

As mentioned, the family court system in Michigan makes its child custody decisions based on what is in the best interest of the child involved. The family laws outlined in the state play a large role in what is considered the best interests of the child, and a number of different factors play a role in this. These factors often times fall into one of the following categories:

  • Emotional Needs: Emotional considerations that are important to a child custody case include the extent to which each parent has been involved in the children’s care up to this point in their lives and the strength of the emotional bonds between the children and both parents. Depending on the children’s ages, their desires and opinions may be taken into consideration when the judge is making his or her decision. Generally, the Michigan family court system believes that keeping both parents involved in the children’s lives is within their best interest, unless one parent has proven otherwise through their actions.
  • Health and Safety: The physical health and safety of the child are always a top concern for judges when making custody decisions. Each parent’s ability to provide basic necessities for the child like clothing, food and medical care, and their willingness to provide it, will be taken into serious consideration. Additionally, the court looks at any mental health or physical health issues that either the parents or the child have that will affect their health, safety, and what is considered necessary for him or her to be well taken care of.
  • Co-Parenting Skills: Each parent’s ability and willingness to co-parent with the other parent is also taken into consideration when making a final decision. It is important for each parent to foster a loving and positive relationship between the child and the other parent, so each parent’s willingness to do this will also come into play.
  • Morality: Under Michigan law, the judge is allowed to call the parents’ morality into question when it comes to making a decision about custody. Although this is true, they only take into consideration those morality factors that will directly impact the child. For example, an extramarital affair that may have caused the end of the marriage but did not affect the child or children in any way will not be counted against the parent who committed the adultery when it comes to the custody of the child.
  • Educational Needs: The judge also has the opportunity to evaluate each parent’s involvement in the child’s education, including helping them with homework and attending conferences or meetings with teachers from the child’s school. If the child has also been raised within a certain religion, the judge may also consider each parent’s involvement in that religion and how it relates to the child involved.

Custody Options in Michigan

“Custody” is defined using both legal and physical custody of children. Legal custody is when the parent has the right and responsibility to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, including important medical, educational, religious and social decisions. Physical custody refers to the amount of time the child spends with a particular parent and is in that parent’s care. Michigan state law dictates that, should either parent request any type of joint custody, the judge must take that request into consideration and evaluate the situation without any type of bias.

When a joint custody option is on the table, whether it is joint legal, joint physical, or a combination of both, the judge is tasked with paying special attention to how the parents work together, cooperate with one another, and how their working together will benefit the child. Even if the parents are awarded joint legal custody, there is a possibility that the judge will find it in the best interests of the child for only one parent that have physical custody awarded to him or her.

Child Custody Modification in Michigan

As mentioned earlier, it is very possible for modifications to a child custody arrangement to be needed based on a number of different factors, including the children’s needs changing as they get older or if the situation for one or both of the parents changes. Generally, if both parents agree to the modification and have it reviewed by the judge, it will be made legally binding, as long as it is not at the detriment of the children. Problems with modification can arise, however, when one parent does not agree to the modifications be proposed.

The parent who wishes to have the modification made to the child custody agreement carries the burden of proof when it comes to convincing the judge to approve the change. Often times, the judge needs to see that a significant change in circumstances has occurred since the last time the agreement was reviewed and that the changes being proposed will benefit the children in some significant way. Since too many disturbances in children’s lives can affect their emotional and mental upbringing, judges often only grant the modifications that are proven to be needed.

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