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Child Custody

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Family Law
Child Custody

Sincere and Compassionate Grand Rapids Child Custody Attorneys

Matters dealing with child custody and visitation issues can be complicated and stressful. At the Van Den Heuvel Law Office, our focus is always on the best interests of each child involved in the divorce. It is our mission to provide the families in the Grand Rapids area with compassionate guidance and intelligent representation in reaching a resolution that works best for them, including creating a workable parenting time or visitation schedule.

What Is Child Custody?

Child custody is the term used in family law courts to define the legal guardianship of a child under the age of 18 years. During the divorce process, courts can determine child custody disputes for biological and adopted children. It is important to have a competent family law attorney assist you with your child custody and parenting time arrangements.

Types Of Custody And How Custody Is Determined

In Michigan, the courts presume it is in the best interests of a child to have a strong relationship with both parents. The court considers a variety of factors to determine what arrangement is in the child’s best interests, including if one parent is relocating out of the home state. There are several types of custody arrangements such as:

  • Sole or full custody. Full custody or sole custody is when one parent provides the majority of the daily care for the child and has the exclusive right to make major decisions for the child.
  • Joint or shared custody. Shared custody or joint custody, which is favored in Michigan, occurs when the parents share authority regarding important decisions affecting the welfare of the child.
  • Physical custody. Physical custody refers to with which parent the child resides, and in the case of joint custody, when the child lives with each parent. The noncustodial parent is usually ordered to pay child support to the custodial parent.
  • Legal custody. Legal custody refers to who makes the decisions affecting the welfare of the child or children. This includes issues of education, non-emergency healthcare, and religion.

If parental negligence or abuse is an issue, it can play a significant role in determining the custody decision and parenting time arrangement.

Legal and Physical Custody

Child custody has two components: legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody is the responsibility of providing a home for the child. Legal custody is the responsibility to maintain the child’s well-being. This includes determining the medical care the child will receive and communicating with the child’s teachers to ensure that the child is performing at grade level academically and receiving any special education services he or she needs.

Parents can have joint or sole custody in either category. For example, the court may deem that in one family, joint legal custody with sole physical custody for the father is the best arrangement, whereas sole legal and physical custody to the mother is more appropriate for another family.

Part of a custody order is a parenting time schedule. This is the schedule the child follows to ensure he or she maintains a consistent relationship with both parents.

How is Child Custody Determined?

The court considers 12 specific best interest factors to determine an appropriate custody arrangement for a child. They are:

  • The love, affection, and emotional ties between the child and the parents;
  • Both parents’ capacity to provide love, affection, and guidance to continue the child’s academic and religious education, if applicable;
  • The home, school, and community record of the child;
  • Both parents’ moral fitness;
  • Both parents’ capacity to provide the child with food, medical care, clothing, and remedial care as recognized by Michigan law;
  • The length of time the child has been in a stable custodial environment and the desirability of keeping him or her in this environment;
  • The permanence of the family units in both parents’ homes;
  • Both parents’ mental and physical health;
  • If applicable, the reasonable preference of the child;
  • Each parent’s willingness to cooperate with the other for their child’s benefit in accordance with the custody order
  • The presence of domestic violence in either parent’s household; and
  • Any other factor the court deems to be relevant.

Modifying a Child Custody Order

When an existing child custody order is no longer appropriate for a child, either due to the child’s changing needs or a parent’s changed circumstances, a parent may file a motion to modify the child custody order. You can read more about changing your parenting time order here.

Petitions for Custody

The court will first examine if a custodial environment has been established with one or both parents (see MCL 722.27(1)(c)). This finding is based on whether, “over an appreciable period of time, the child naturally looks to a custodian in that environment for guidance, discipline, necessities of life, and parental comfort.”

Ask yourself; who feeds the child and puts him to bed? Who brings the child to worship services? Who spends the most time with the child? And who does the child look to most for guidance and care?

Burden of Proof for Parent Seeking Change of Custody

Once the court determines if there is a custodial environment, it next applies one of two burdens of proof to the parent seeking to establish or change custody. First, if a custodial environment exists, the parent must provide “clear and convincing evidence” the changes requested are in the best interest of the child. Second, if a custodial environment does not exist, then the court requires a parent to show, “by the preponderance of the evidence” that the changes requested are in the best interest of the child.

The court will determine, based on whether there is a custodial environment, what standard applies and then apply it to the petitioning parent’s evidence.

What Does the Burden of Proof Mean?

The difference between the two standards is that while “preponderance of the evidence” is very neutral and weak, “clear and convincing” is a strong burden to overcome. Changing custody under the first standard is easier to accomplish and is more like a free-for-all. Whereas, changing custody under the second standard difficult and requires a very strong reason, like abuse, or neglect, in order to change.

Effects of Certain Facts:

  1. Prior custody orders: the existence of one, by itself, should not create an established custodial environment.
  2. Custodial parent’s voluntary relinquishment of custody: the court looks to all the circumstances. The amount of time a parent has allowed the custody change is key here. Generally, the court encourages people to resolve their issues.
  3. Parents living together (prejudgment): The court should use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard when reviewing the child’s best interest factors. Read more about the 12 best interest factors here.

What is Parenting Time?

Parenting time is court-ordered time when the child lives or spends time with either parent. It was formerly referred to as “visitation” time because it applies to the parent who does not have physical custody.

Parenting time schedules can be unique and created to fit your individual circumstances. Schedules can be very restrictive — supervised parenting time with no overnight visitation — or very liberal, where the parents essentially equally share the parenting time. Supervised parenting time is only ordered if there is a concern over the safety and well-being of the child during the parenting time.

Child custody can be a complex topic. Put simply, it is the order the court creates to ensure that the child of a divorcing couple has continued contact with both parents after their divorce. This is because in most cases, it is in the child’s best interest to have continued contact with both of his or her parents.

The child’s best interest is the key point in creating a child custody order. Take time to educate yourself about exactly what this means and what you can expect from the child custody order determination process for your divorce.

Work With an Experienced Grand Rapids Family Lawyer

Contact an attorney you can trust with your child custody matter. At the Van Den Heuvel Law Office, we offer you extensive experience in assisting with your child custody and parenting time decisions. If you are a parent going through a divorce, a child custody order will be part of your divorce settlement. To prepare for this part of your divorce, consult with an experienced family lawyer. Contact the Van Den Heuvel Law Office today to schedule your initial legal consultation in our office.

Contact a Knowledgeable Grand Rapids Attorney

For An Initial Consultation

To talk with our attorney about your legal concerns, contact the Van Den Heuvel Law Office by calling 616-698-0000. You may also complete our online contact form. After-hours consultations are available by appointment. We are also available on Skype by appointment.

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