Child custody is the most emotional and difficult issue in divorce cases. Custody may take many forms, including sole custody, joint custody, shared custody, etc. Custody has two prongs: physical and legal. Legal custody deals with the “big ticket” decisions regarding health, education, welfare, and maintenance of the child. As a general rule, legal custody is awarded jointly to both parents. Physical custody addresses the physical location of the child and the day-to-day decisions. The basis for determining custody is the best interests of the child. There is no law that says a 12-year-old or older child can choose where he or she lives. The following factors are those considered by the court when deciding what is in the child’s best interests:
These factors are the law and can be found at MCL 722.23.
Child custody orders may be modified only if there is a change in circumstances sufficient to justify a change in custody. It is very difficult to modify custody once it has been established in a court order. Before agreeing to a custody arrangement, even temporarily, make sure that you understand what you are agreeing to and ask all of your questions before the agreement is reduced to a court order.
You may want to review the Model Friend of the Court Handbook for more information on custody.
The judgment may order reasonable parenting time, leaving it to the parents to decide the dates, or it may provide specific parenting time, hours, and dates.
Parenting time orders may be modified on a showing of a change in circumstances. The law also allows parenting time that has been wrongfully denied to be made up, and the parent that denied the parenting time may be held in contempt of court. Failure to pay child support is not an acceptable reason to deny parenting time.