October 25, 2017

The moral fitness of the parties – the nitty gritty details

It is not uncommon for a party to question the moral fitness of the other party in a child custody dispute.  For example, allegations of an affair, use of foul language, drug use, alcoholism, abuse, past criminality and so on are in many ways a question of moral fitness which begs the question, how does moral fitness of the parties impact a child custody determination?

It is easy to get lost in the trees when you should be focusing on the forest.  However, we recognize that some people like the nitty gritty details. This page is dedicated to those people. Over the years we have published dozens of articles on Michigan child custody laws addressing both general and highly specific topics.  This article hyper focuses on the nitty gritty details regarding best interest of the child factor (f) the moral fitness of the parties.

Best interest of the child

Michigan child custody law requires the court to examine the 12 statutory best interest factors which are codified in Michigan Compiled Laws section 722.23.  The sixth factor is factor (f) and examines the moral fitness of the parties involved.

In rendering a child custody decision, the court is required to consider and make findings on the record regarding each best interest of the child factor.  Riemer v Johnson, 311 Mich App 632 (2015) and should explicitly state its findings and conclusions regarding each best interest of the child factor.  LaFleche v. Ybarra, 242 Mich App 692 (2000). Therefore, at a minimum, the court is required to consider the moral fitness of the parties in making a child custody determination.

How much weight a court gives to the moral fitness of the parties involved (or any best interest factor) is uncertain as set forth in the case of Berger v. Berger, 277 Mich App 700 at 712. “the trial court need not make its custody determination on the basis of a mathematical calculation and may assign differing weights to the various best-interest factors.”

The impact of morality on child custody

Adultery.

In the case of Fletcher v. Fletcher, 447 Mich 871 (1994), the Supreme Court of Michigan addressed husband’s concerns that wife’s affairs set a poor moral example for the children .  The Supreme Court cited the case of Truitt v. Truitt, 172 Mich App 38 (1988) which noted that unmarried cohabitation is not enough to constitute immorality under the child custody act.

The Michigan Supreme Court further stated:

To evaluate parental fitness, courts must look to the parent-child relationship and the effect that the conduct at issue will have on that relationship. Thus, the question under factor f is not “who is the morally superior adult”; the question concerns the parties’ relative fitness to provide for their child, given the moral disposition of each party as demonstrated by individual conduct. We hold that in making that finding, questionable conduct is relevant to factor f only if it is a type of conduct that necessarily has a significant influence on how one will function as a parent.

Other illegal or offensive behaviors.

Footnote 6 of the Feltcher case provides a non-exhaustive list of relevant conduct involving the moral fitness of the parties, the footnote provides:

  1. While we do not venture to promulgate standards of moral conduct, Kirkendall, Best interest of the minor child,21 Mich Fam L J 15 (Oct, 1994), provides a list of conduct that, although not exhaustive, represents the type of morally questionable conduct relevant to one’s moral fitness as a parent. It includes: verbal abuse, drinking problems, driving record, physical or sexual abuse of children, and other illegal or offensive behaviors. While the list also includes consideration of “extra-marital conduct known by the children,” we believe that today’s decision sufficiently addresses the relevance of that fact.

The moral fitness of the parties is an important best interest of the child factor in evaluating a child custody case.  Let us help you evaluate your circumstances, we are ready to help you now!

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  • Best interest of the child Factor (a): The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the competing parties and the child.

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  • Best interest of the child Factor (b): The capacity and disposition of competing parties to give the child
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  • Best interest of the child Factor (c): The capacity and disposition of competing parties to provide the child
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Custody in Michigan – Best interest of the child factor (c)

  • Best interest of the child Factor (d): The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.

Custody in Michigan – Best interest of the child factor (d)

  • Best interest of the child factor (e).  The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home.

Custody in Michigan – Best interest of the child factor (e)

  • Best interest of the child factor (f): The moral fitness of the competing parties.

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  • Best interest of the child factor (g): The mental and physical health of the competing parties.

Best interest of the child factor (g) – The parties health

  • Best interest of the child factor (h): The home, school and community record of the child.

Custody in Michigan – Best interest of the child factor (h)

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  • Best interest of the child factor (i): The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.

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  • Best interest of the child factor (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.
  • Best interest of the child factor (k): Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.

Domestic Violence and Michigan Divorce

  • Best interest of the child factor (l): Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

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