Child Custody Laws in Michigan – The case of Farris v. Farris

On December 17, 2019, the Michigan Court of Appeal issued an opinion in the case of Kristina Reslin Farris vs. Eric Daniel Farris. The case examines child custody laws of Michigan after the trial court awarded Kristina sole legal custody and sole physical custody of the parties’ two minor children. Eric had a history of substance abuse having a prior admission for rehabilitation.  When Kristina filed for divorce, Eric defaulted, failing to defend the lawsuit.

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How to get custody in Michigan

The trial court adopted Kristina’s request for sole legal and sole physical custody on an interim basis pending a friend of the court investigation on child custody. The Friend of the Court reaffirmed the Kristina’s request for sole physical and sole legal custody and the trial court adopted the recommendation of the Friend of the Court.

Child Custody Evaluation in Michigan

Eric filed an appeal arguing that the trial court erred in entering a temporary custody order without making a determination of the established custodial environment.  The Child Custody Laws in Michigan provide that the established custodial environment is the parent a child naturally looks to for guidance, discipline and the necessities of life. Although the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the physical custody determination, the appeals court held that the trial court “committed clear legal error by failing to make a statutorily mandated finding regarding joint legal custody.

The Child Custody Laws in Michigan provide that in a custody dispute, a trial court, for the best interests of the child at the center of the dispute, may “modify or amend its previous judgments or orders for proper cause shown or because of change of circumstances.” See: Michigan Compiled Laws section 722.27(1)(c).

The court, however, is not permitted to “modify or amend its previous judgments or orders or issue a new order so as to change the established custodial environment of a child unless there is presented clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of the child. pursuant to the Child Custody Laws in Michigan as set forth in Michigan compiled Laws 722.27(1)(c).

“These initial steps to changing custody—finding a change of circumstance or proper cause and not changing an established custodial environment without clear and convincing evidence—are intended to erect a barrier against removal of a child from an established custodial environment and to minimize unwarranted and disruptive changes of custody orders.” Vodvarka v Grasmeyer, 259 Mich App 499 (2003).

In Pierron v Pierron, 486 Mich 81, 92-93; 782 NW2d 480 (2010), our Supreme Court discussed the next step of the analysis, explaining:
If the proposed change would modify the established custodial environment of the child, then the burden is on the parent proposing the change to establish, by clear and convincing evidence that the change is in the child’s best interests. Under such circumstances, the trial court must consider all the best interest factors because a case in which the proposed change would modify the custodial environment is essentially a change-of-custody case.

The Child Custody laws of Michigan provide for an examination of twelve statutory best-interest factors which are set forth in Michigan Compiled Laws Section 722.23. The twelve statutory best interest factors are:

(a) The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
(b) 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.
(c) 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.
(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
(e) The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
(f) The moral fitness of the parties involved.
(g) The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.
(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
(j) 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.
(k) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.
(l) Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

In Farris case, Eric requested joint legal custody. He testified that he believed that he and Kristina plaintiff would be able to co-parent. However, the trial court did not advise Eric of joint legal custody which was in violation of the Michigan child custody laws. As a result, the trial court’s award that Kristina is awarded sole legal custody was reversed.

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I have been exclusively practicing divorce and family law in Michigan for over two decades. The Oakland County Divorce attorneys at Findling Law practice statewide. We share the core value of practicing law to help people navigate change in their lives, without compromising principles.  We specialize in high socio-economic, high-profile and high-conflict cases, while also working with clients of all backgrounds. We recognize that the most important aspect of the practice of law is the application of the law to your specific circumstances.That is why we provide more free information on divorce and family law than any other Michigan law firm. We want to help you manage your situation. Allow our exceptional legal team to help you navigate the change in your life, without compromising principles.

By:  Daniel Findling

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