A number of custody arrangements are possible. The most common are:
- Joint Legal Custody: Means that parents will communicate and cooperate with one another and attempt to reach mutual decisions regarding major issues affecting their children. This decision-making process includes, but is not limited to: major medical decisions, educational decisions, and religious upbringing, if any.
- Joint Physical Custody: Means that children live with one parent part of the time and the other parent part of the time. This time does not have to be equal. The parent who has care of the children at any given time is responsible for routine decisions regarding the children.
- Primary Physical Custody: Means that the children live primarily with one parent, and that parent is responsible for making major decisions regarding the children.
Custody is contested when more than one party wants to be the custodial parent. In disputes between parties, the matter may be referred to the Friend of the Court Office for a Child Custody Evaluation. A trained Custody Evaluator will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the family and prepare a report on the child or children's "best interests." The purpose of the report is to assist the Judge in determining who should be the custodial parent.
Michigan Child Custody Act
In deciding the custodial arrangements, the court must consider all of the following factors of the Michigan Child Custody Act:
(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 the child love, affection, and guidance and continuation of the educating and raising of the child in its religion or creed, if any.
(c) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this State in place of medical care, and other material needs.
(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 deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
(j) The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.
(k) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against, or witnessed by the child.
(l) Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.
At the request of either parent, the Court will consider an award of joint custody. In other cases the court may decide joint custody.
During the time a child resides with a parent, that parent shall decide all routine matters concerning the child. Joint custody does not, however, eliminate the responsibility for child support. The Court may order support payments for a portion of "housing expenses" even during a time the child is not living in the home of the parent receiving support. By itself, an order for joint custody shall not constitute grounds for modifying a support order.
Divorced Parents Must Work Together
The Court prefers that the parties continue to work together in raising the minor children. When disputes arise, however, the custodial parent decides where the child will live (provided it does not violate the court order, in which case Court approval is required), which schools to enroll the child in, what religious instruction the child will have, what disciplinary measures to use, how the child dresses and with whom the child associates. These decisions can be made without notification to or consultation with the non-custodial parent and are limited only by specific language in court orders. The Friend of the Court stresses cooperation.
Custody can be changed.
After the Judgment of Divorce, custody can be changed if a party petitions the Court by a motion to modify the Judgment. This motion must be brought by your own attorney (or by yourself if you know how to petition the court).
Many parties decide to change custody as the children get older or circumstances change. This is done without a court appearance by contacting private counsel to prepare a stipulation (i.e. an agreement between the parties). If parties are able to draw up valid, enforceable stipulations on their own, the Friend of the Court Office will accept these as well for the Judges signature.
Custodial parents are not required to be perfect.
The Court only enforces a reasonable degree of custodial care and supervision, and not necessarily the standard the non-custodial parent would impose. The custodial parent is allowed a range of human failings, and a simple mistake or error in judgment will not result in a change in custody.