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Child Custody in Michigan
Whenever parties to a divorce or unmarried parents split up, there will have to be a decision as to where the minor children will primarily live and how often they will spend time with the other parent (parenting time). Today, the issue of custody is been divided into two subcategories: legal custody and physical custody. Courts, however, are tending to de-emphasize "custody" and talk more in terms of parenting time. Still, it is important to understand all the terms.
Legal custody refers to which parent (or both) will have decision-making authority on major and important issues affecting a child’s life (health, education and welfare). Generally, the Court will award "joint legal custody" to both parents unless the Court determines that the parents simply cannot agree on major issues that affect the children’s health, education and welfare.
Physical custody refers to the actual physical residence of the children. While joint physical custody may initially sound appropriate, it requires a great deal of commitment and understanding by both parents and is often just plain not practical (i.e. parent’s live in different school districts). Often, however, parents believe that allowing a child to live primarily in one home or the other, while spending time with the other parent, gives a more solid foundation for the child’s growth and development. Too often, however, both parties believe that they are the proper party to provide that primary home.
The parents who can work out custody/parenting arrangements with the least amount of conflict will generally find that their children are the least affected by the breakup of their parents. When parents cannot agree, the Court evaluates each party’s claim to determine what is in the best interest of the children. There are a number of factors the Court is required to take into consideration when making this determination. They include:
In a divorce case where a child custody/parenting time dispute is involved, there will generally be an order directing the Friend of the Court or another agency to do an investigation. There may also be orders requiring evaluations from a psychologist. Either the Friend of the Court or the psychologist will conduct an investigation and will then file their report with the Court. If such an investigation is ordered, we will discuss it fully, long in advance, so there will be no surprises in store for you. It is the duty of such an investigator to make recommendations to the Court concerning the custody of the children, so you should spare no effort in furnishing complete cooperation so that your side will be understood and believed. The person conducting the investigation may ask you the names of people with whom you have worked, your friends, people who know you. These people may be contacted by the investigator. So talk with your references ahead of time and ask whether they would mind talking to someone regarding your case. Be careful never to tell them what to say.
Typically, a case will take longer to be resolved where there are child custody disputes than any other type of dispute and will increase the cost dramatically. Trying to separate the issues affecting your children from the other issues in your divorce is one of the most important things you can do for yourself, your children, and your pocketbook.
Divorce is not automatic. In other words, Michigan law establishes a waiting period from the filing of a divorce complaint until the marriage is terminated. Testimony and evidence cannot be presented in a divorce case until the expiration of 60 days from the date of filing of the divorce complaint.
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"A Plain English Guide to Protecting Your Children"
Author: Mary L. Boland, Attorney at Law
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