Child Custody Lawyer in Grand Rapids Michigan

Determining legal and physical custody based on the best interests of the child.

The issues surrounding child custody and parenting time are probably the most emotionally stressful in any divorce involving children. The decisions made will typically have long-lasting consequences for both spouses and the children involved.

There are two types of child custody: physical and legal. Physical custody describes where the child resides and is generally described in terms of parenting time. Legal custody describes the decision-making authority on behalf of the child, such as education and medical decisions. In either case, parents may have sole or joint custody arrangements.

Spouses who make decisions on their own regarding custody (before the divorce is finalized) typically experience less stress later on. The reason is because if decisions cannot be made between spouses, the Judge and/or Friend of the Court must make the decisions without being fully informed and without a full understanding of the family dynamic, resulting in decisions that are not necessarily the best for the family.

Once a divorce is finalized, it is often difficult to make changes to custody unless there is a significant change in circumstance on the part of the mother or father. For this reason, I'm able to bring my 44 years of experience in child custody matters to the table right from the start, assisting spouses to work through the emotional issues and keep the child's best interest in mind.

Best Interests of the Child

Almost any parent can agree with and understand that children survive divorce best when they live in a supportive, loving, peaceful and orderly environment. Our goal is to help clients set emotions aside and approach child custody and parenting time decisions with a rational thought process for the benefit of children (and parents) involved. After all, the adult problems of divorce should be minimized for the children involved.

Michigan Child Custody Act - Best Interest Factors

Whenever decisions are made regarding child custody, the courts are required by Michigan law to use a set of 12 "best interest factors" to their decision making. Spouses are encouraged to use the same set of factors during the divorce process.

These factors are very subjective, and it is critical that you find a competent and experienced attorney to review your specialized set of circumstances and to apply them effectively to your case. Our goal is to help our clients keep these factors in mind when making child custody decisions. Should the case go before a Judge, we will develop and present your case in the most compelling and persuasive manner possible.

  • The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties and the child.
  • The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, guidance, continuation of the education and raising of the child in its religion or creed, if any.
  • 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.
  • The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
  • The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
  • The moral fitness of the parties involved.
  • The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
  • The home, school, and community record of the child.
  • The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
  • 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.
  • Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.
  • Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

Court Trials

Trials in court are not the norm, occurring in less than 10% of cases. There are a number of methods available for dispute resolution, such as mediation, that are typically more productive and less stressful and costly. In fact, judges expect substantial efforts by the attorneys and their clients to resolve disputes without going to trial.

This is not to suggest certain cases should not be tried in court if there is a need. In some cases there is simply no choice but to go to trial. However, it is beneficial to retain an attorney with the experience to know when to settle a case versus taking the case to trial. Grand Rapids custody lawyer Robert B. Relph has both settled and tried numerous cases throughout his career; experience that will allow him to provide proper advice in such decisions.

Frequently Asked Questions

The questions and answers below are intended to provide general information with regard to common questions on child custody based on laws in the State of Michigan. They are not intended to constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in lieu of consultation with a divorce specialist or attorney.

Similarly, since every case is different we recommend consulting with a divorce specialist or attorney for advice related to your specific set of circumstances.

In Michigan there are two kinds of custody, legal and physical. Legal custody involves decision-making authority regarding the child, typically involving education and medical issues. Physical custody involves where the child resides, typically for a majority of the time.

For a detailed discussion of joint custody in Michigan, please see our blog entry on custody options.

Child custody is determined according to the Michigan Child Custody Act, which Act has twelve factors for consideration by a Friend of the Court evaluator and/or the Judge. Those factors can be found above on this page.

However, most divorce specialists do not focus on all of the factors. Among primary factors are the following: (1) which parent has been most available to the children, usually by reason by schedule; (2) has either parent provided the primary care for the children up to the time of the filing of the divorce; (3) what deficits are there, if any, to either parent's ability to parent the minor children; (4) what are the ages of the children and their relationships with each of the parents.

If there is any question that custody will be an issue during the divorce, the initial consultation with a divorce and custody specialist becomes crucial in planning and implementing a strategy regarding custody during the divorce.

If one can demonstrate with facts that a parent is the primary caretaker, because of schedule, inclination or otherwise, that parent will be in a favorable position for custody. Instead of discussing full custody, it is often better to talk about who would have the children when, making the physical custody label less of a factor. Actual parenting time with children is more important than the word custody. However, since there are a number of other factors involved in a decision regarding custody, a careful exploration of these factors at the initial consultation with the attorney is critical.

It is no longer typical for a mother in Michigan to automatically receive custody of the children. The vast majority of judges are not gender-biased, theoretically giving fathers just as much chance for consideration for custody or significant parenting time as mothers. Since more mothers tend to be stay-at-home parents than fathers, this may often lead to more mothers having custody, but it is anything but automatic.

A childs preference regarding which parent that child might choose to live with most of the time is but one of the factors under the Child Custody Act. However, the child must be of sufficient age and sophistication to express a meaningful preference. Typically, the older the child is the more than childs reasonable preference is considered. However, children cannot simply choose to live with one parent and have that necessarily be the end result, given the factors under the Michigan Child Custody Act.

Custody and visitation (parenting time) are not the same, but are related. Custody is typically awarded to the parent who has the children most of the time. However, courts will often consider joint physical custody, even if the parenting time between the parents is unequal. Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean equal parenting time. There are two kinds of custody, legal and physical.

It is submitted that parenting time is a much more important consideration than the custody label.

A parent may not move out of the state with a child without the permission of the other parent, or the permission of the judge originally assigned to the case. Change of domicile (moving out of the state) is often a serious and contentious issue for the obvious reason that the parent left behind will have his or her parenting time seriously affected. The parent requesting a change of domicile has the burden of proving that the change of domicile will improve the quality of the childs life.

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