When people who share children separate or divorce, they must devise an arrangement for handling all aspects of childrearing moving forward. Called a custody arrangement, this plan addresses everything from where the kids will live to how major decisions will be made on their behalf.

If you’re planning on seeking custody in Michigan and you’re wondering what the proceedings will entail or how these agreements are reached, read on. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on the subject:

1. How Do the Courts Decide Who Gets Custody?

The Michigan Child Custody Act assumes it’s almost always in a child’s best interests to maintain a relationship with both parents. As for determining specific logistics, like where the children will reside and how much time they’ll spend with each parent, judges evaluate 12 primary factors. These include:

  • The existing emotional ties the child has with each parent,
  • The living situation of each parent and their ongoing ability to provide a stable home life,
  • The moral fitness of each parent, and
  • The mental and physical health of each parent.

2. What Is the Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody?

In Michigan, physical custody refers to living with the children. Parents who have shared physical custody each get to reside with the children at least some of the time. If one parent lives with the kids for significantly more than 50 percent of the time, they have what’s called “primary physical custody.”

Some courts are moving away from using the term “primary,” however, in an effort to avoid making the other parent feel marginalized. Instead, many judgements are issued with no mention of a “primary” parent at all, regardless of whether one party has the kids for a much larger portion of time.

Legal custody, on the other hand, refers to the right to make major decisions on behalf of the children. Examples include decisions regarding education, medical care, and religious upbringing. Parents often have joint legal custody, though there are scenarios in which only one party is awarded this right.

3. Can You Ever Change a Custody Arrangement?

Generally speaking, the courts do not like to modify orders regarding custody because children need stability. Family judges recognizes that circumstances can change, however, so there are scenarios in which it’s possible to adjust an existing arrangement.

In order to secure a new order, you must present clear and convincing evidence that the modifications you’re proposing are in the best interests of the children. Petitioning for a change can be an uphill battle, but with the right legal strategy, it may be possible to secure a new arrangement.

Discuss Your Case with a Child Custody Attorney in Michigan

At Smith & Johnson, we know how stressful custody battles can be for all parties involved. If you’re facing some kind of custody dispute, we’ll be proud to advocate for your rights every step of the way. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our child custody lawyers in Michigan, submit the Contact Form on our website or call 231-946-0700.

In this divorce appeal, the trial court modified the parenting time schedule to give the defendant parenting time every other weekend including Sunday overnight, and Monday and Wednesday after school until 7:15 p.m.  The defendant claimed that the trial court erred in relying on a study about the advisability of children waking up in their own beds at the end of the ruling.  At the end of the court’s ruling, the trial court stated:  “I’m also a big believer in the study that kids should wake up in their own bed and that’s why I ruled the way I did on the parenting time.”  However, there was no study introduced as evidence at the hearing, and no witnesses testified regarding the findings of any study.    The Court of Appeals held that  the trial court erred.  A court must make its decision on testimony given in open court, not on extrajudicial information.   Although the plaintiff argued that the trial court made this statement only after making its findings and that the judge’s comments did not indicate that he actually relied on the study, the comments do not bear this out.  The trial court’s comments that it “ruled the way it did” because of its belief in the study indicates that the error was not harmless and that the error did affect the outcome.  By referencing and then relying on a study not introduced into evidnce or part of the record, the trial court committed clear legal error.

You can read the entire opinion here.