Understanding Michigan custody law.

You don’t need a doctorate degree to understand Michigan custody law. In fact, Michigan Custody Law can be broken down into three steps. First, in modification cases, you must address proper cause or change of circumstances. Second, in all custody cases, you must address an established custodial environment. Third, you must address the best interest of the child factors.


Michigan Custody Law – The Initial Burden

Step 1. The initial burden. Before you can argue a motion to modify custody, Michigan custody law requires the party seeking modification meet an initial burden of proof. This initial burden of proof is called proper cause or a change of circumstances. The trial court is not authorized to modify custody without first examining if circumstances have changed since the last custody order. The seminal case on this initial burden is Vodvarka vs. Grassmeyer and we wrote extensively on this case in the following article. To establish proper cause necessary to revisit a custody order, the party requesting the change must prove the existence of an appropriate ground to do so relevant to one of the 12 best interest factors. Alternatively, there must be a material change of circumstances to modify custody.

Michigan Custody Law – The Established Custodial Environment

Step 2. The established custodial environment. Michigan custody law requires an examination of the existence of an established custodial environment in all custody cases. The established custodial environment is the parent a child naturally looks to for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort.  The law defining the established custodial environment is Michigan Compiled Laws, section 722.27. If an established custodial environment exists with one parent a court cannot grant the other party custody without clear and convincing evidence to do so. If there is no established custodial environment (or if the environment is shared by both parties), the burden of proof is preponderance of the evidence.

Michigan Custody Law – The Best Interest Factors

Step 3. The Best Interest of the Child Analysis. Michigan custody law requires an examination of the best interest of the child factors which are formally set forth in Michigan Compiled Laws section 722.23. These 12 factors must be examined by the court when deciding cases involving child custodyparenting time, choice of school and guardianship cases.

The Factors:

(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 love, affection, guidance, and continuation of the educating and raising the child in its religion or creed, if any;

(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 and other remedial care;

(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;

(k) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child; and

(l) Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

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I have been exclusively practicing divorce and family law in Michigan for over two decades. The attorneys at Findling Law all 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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