Child custody laws in Michigan

The child custody laws in Michigan can be confusing and are going to try to make it easier.

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Before deciding any child custody case, the court must determine if an established custodial environment exists. Michigan Compiled Laws section 722.27(1)(c) provides:

. . .The custodial environment of a child is established if over an appreciable period of time the child naturally looks to the custodian in that environment for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort.”

MCL 722.27(1)(c)

Simply put, if an established custodial environment exists with one parent, child custody laws in Michigan make it difficult to award the other parent custody. After all, if the child has looks to one parent for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life and parental comfort the court wants to prevent disruptive changes. That is unless there is clear and convincing evidence that something should change. If there is an established custodial environment with both parents, the burden of proof is preponderance of the evidence which is much easier to prove.

The Established Custodial Environment

Child custody laws in Michigan provide that an established custodial environment determines the burden of proof (clear and convincing or preponderance of the evidence), the Best Interest of the Child Factors describe what has to be proved.

Child Custody Laws in Michigan – Best Interest Factors

Michigan Compiled Laws section 722.23 identifies the 12 Best interest factors that a court must considere when making a decision on child custody.

Michigan Child Custody laws provides that the “best interests of the child” means the sum total of the following factors to be considered, evaluated, and determined by the court:

(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

MCL 722.23

It is important to understand that not every factor is necessarily given equal weight. The facts and circumstances of each case may dictate the weight each factor is given. For example, factor (g) examines the mental and physical health of a parent. If a parent has fallen ill and is no longer capable of caring for a child, that fact will certainly trump every other factor.

To recap, Michigan child custody laws provide a two-step process for determining child custody. The first step determines the existence of an establish custodial environment which determines the burden of proof required. The second step examines the best interest of the child factors which must be examined by the court applying the applicable burden of proof.

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