Determining child custody can be the most problematic aspect of a divorce in Michigan. Custody concerns usually linger long after the divorce is final, as kids grow and life circumstances change. Often, when you are embroiled in bitter disagreements over custody, it feels like you’re all alone. Likely, though, many parents have been in your shoes before. Here are some of the most common custody problems Michigan parents encounter, both before and after divorce. Unsurprisingly, they are often intertwined with issues of child support and parenting time.
When Joint Custody isn’t Working
There are two types of custody: physical, which simply means the parent with whom the child lives, and legal, which means the parent who makes major life choices such as religious, educational and medical decisions for the child. Michigan courts generally favor joint custody whenever practical, because it’s important for a child to have two involved parents.
Sometimes, though, parents overstep their custodial rights, to the exclusion of the other parent. This might happen, for instance, where a parent decides to enroll a child in a private religious school near his or her home without consulting the other joint custodian, who lives across town and opposes the enrollment on grounds of inconvenience, expense, and the school’s curriculum.
Other times, a parent will pursue and be granted joint physical custody, but fail to spend the parenting time granted with the child. This is a problem for that parent, who risks damaging their relationship with the child. But it’s even more of a problem for the other parent, who is inconvenienced and left with greater expenses, less child support, and a child who doesn’t understand where the other parent has disappeared to.
In either scenario, the best thing a parent can do is to document, factually and consistently, the ways in which the co-parent has violated the custody order. If it’s necessary to return to court to seek enforcement of the order, it’s a lot easier for your attorney to persuade a judge to take action based on a list of specific events than on one party’s exasperated assertion that the other party “never does what they’re supposed to.”
Because stability for children is valued in Michigan, it is not easy to change an existing custody order. If one parent can document enough persistent misconduct by the other party over a long enough time, that documentation may support “good cause shown” for a change of custody.
When a Custodial Parent Wants to Move
Because joint custody is common, and because people frequently need to move for work or other reasons, it often happens that a parent who shares custody with an ex wants to move a significant distance with their child.
If a custodial parent wants to move a child’s legal residence more than 100 miles, or wants to move out of Michigan (even if less than 100 miles), they must not do so without permission of the court.
For a move greater than 100 miles, the court will consider the factors set forth in MCL 722.31. For an out of state move, the factors are set forth in case law, not statute, but they are very similar. Essentially, the court will look at whether:
- the move is being proposed for a good reason (to improve the life of parent and child)
- both parents have been complying with existing parenting time orders and whether the move is being proposed in order to defeat the existing parenting time schedule.
- the non-moving parent and child can still have an adequate parenting time schedule if the proposed move takes place
- the non-moving parent opposes the move in order to gain an advantage with regard to child support
- there is any domestic violence within the family.
If you are a parent with joint custody of your child, and your co-parent is violating the custody order, wants to move residences, or wants to oppose your move, you should have the guidance and support of an experienced Michigan family law attorney. We invite you to contact our office for a consultation.