When the court determines an appropriate child custody order, it considers a set of 12 factors that indicate which physical and legal custody arrangement best serves the child’s needs. These factors are known as the 12 best interest factors.
Every child’s needs are unique, and every family’s situation is unique. With this in mind, the court has the discretion to weigh each of these factors as heavily as it deems necessary for each specific case.
The 12 best interest factors are:
This factor focuses on the emotional bonds presented to the court about where the child is at in terms of emotional ties with the parents.
Who does the child look to for love and comfort? Does the child primarily want to be with you?
This factor, in contrast to factor (a), looks to the future. It asks the question of what the parties can provide in terms of guidance and religion. The court here will look to your past behavior as an indicator of the future.
So, do you take the child to Church? Have you had the child in SCOUTS? Or have you made efforts to educate the child, besides just sending them to daycare…etc.
Here the court will look to the parent’s ability to provide for childcare and other necessities. Essentially, can you the parent take care of the child and provide a roof over his head? Are you able to feed and clothe as well as give the child “good experiences”?
Stay away from strict economics here because the court will most likely value things like stay-at-home parenting, and ability to be home for the child. Also, having more financial stability, but not significantly contributing to your child, can hurt you and be weighed against you.
The court will look to whether the child will have a comfortable and safe place to grow up in.
So how long have you lived in one place? Is this place a safe place? Look at sex offenders and crime rates. Does the child call your home his home?
This factor focuses solely on the permanence of the family environment, not the acceptability of the home or childcare arrangements. Here the court is likely to penalize those without support structure.
The court does not focus on “immoral” actions per se, only how these actions relate to their parenting. So, does one of the parents suffer from drunkenness, vulgarity, or commit criminal acts?
Essentially, look to behavior that would affect the children, not just offend the conscience. Things like having female and male sleepovers would not be of paramount concern, unless the person sleeping over was a sex offender (in that case the parent would be inviting in a sex offender which would potentially harm the child).
Here the court may not have anything to factor because medical privilege will trump disclosure. Just don’t discriminate against those with disabilities! That could implicate other federal and state laws.
Most of the time, the court will look to the school record; how many absences from school, disciplinary actions, or detentions. However, when a small child is involved, ask your self, “can the child continue to attend and do well in school?”
Also, the court may consider whether the child would have to change schools in order to be with the other parent.
This is factor concerns the child’s preference. Generally, the child will tell the judge where he/she wants to live. Additionally, the court will determine the minimum age of the child to be able to testify to this factor. The older the child, the more credible.
Keep in mind, that this factor does not allow for extraneous information, like “mommy is a bad person,” only testimony as to where the child wants to live. Also, the court will conduct this testimony in confidential setting to avoid destroying the other parent’s relationship with the child.
Parents must facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent. The court will presume that each parent has a right to parent and see their child, the question is just how much and where. If the child does not want to go, then either parent should make the child go for the purpose of the relationship.
Remember, that the court will give significant weight to this factor because of the presumption that parents have a right to see and parent their children.
Has the child been the victim of sexual or physical abuse? The court will certainly look here first and weigh this factor extremely heavily in their consideration of the child’s best interests.
However, often parties overlook whether there has been abuse in the house in front of the child. Has either parent suffered abuse? Are others in the house violent?
Other questions usually concern unique situations. However, courts should never use race as a factor. Further, while the court may entertain biological preference (sex), this consideration should be considered holistically and not with a straight-line rule (ex. males always go with father).
When considering each of the 12 factors listed above, the court can interpret them as granularly as it deems necessary. For example, when considering the child’s current home environment and whether it is a stable, safe environment for him or her, the court may consider whether any registered sex offenders live in the neighborhood, crime rates in the town where the home is located, and how long the child has lived there, rather than just looking at whether the house, in itself, is a secure environment.
The final factor in the list grants the court the right to consider any other issues it deems relevant to a child custody case. If you feel your case is a unique situation that warrants special court consideration, discuss it with your lawyer. Your lawyer can give custom advice tailored to your situation and help you develop realistic expectations for the custody determination process.
To learn more about how Michigan’s 12 best interest factors will impact your child custody case, schedule a legal consultation with one of the experienced family lawyers at The Van Den Heuvel Law Office. We are here to answer your questions and enable you to navigate every aspect of your divorce with as much ease as possible.
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