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The state of Michigan recognizes several different types of child custody:
- Sole Physical Custody: Only one parent is in control of the child’s day-to-day activities and retains primary rights to physical custody of the child, meaning the child only lives with this parent. The other parent may still be granted visitation rights (also known as “parenting time”).
- Sole Legal Custody: Only one parent is responsible for making important decisions (regarding education, health care, religion, etc.) on behalf of the child. Typically, if a parent has sole physical custody, he/she will also be granted sole legal custody (though not always).
- Joint Physical Custody: The child splits time between both parents. This does not mean the child spends equal amounts of time with both parents but, rather, that a schedule is set to meet the best interests of the child.
- Joint Legal Custody: Both parents are responsible for making certain decisions about the child’s health care, education, religion, activities, etc. This typically requires the two parents to work together to reach decisions that best benefit the child.
Despite popular belief, it is important to remember that Michigan does not automatically award physical or legal custody to the mother of a child. Instead, the court will weigh a variety of factors when determining a custody agreement that will be most beneficial to your child.
How Child Custody & Parenting Time Are Awarded
There are a number of factors that the court takes into account when determining how to award child custody in Michigan.
These factors include the following:
- The financial, emotional, and intellectual ability of both parents to provide for the child
- The age of the child (a mother will likely be awarded custody of a small infant, etc.)
- The preferences of the child (if applicable and appropriate)
- The established relationship between either parent and the child
- The willingness of both parents to continue a relationship with the child
This list is not exhaustive. Depending on your unique situation, the court may take other extraneous factors into account when awarding custody.
Furthermore, what the court considers to be your child’s “best interests” may not align with your point of view. No one knows your family better than you do, but the court will likely not consider this when awarding custody. If you wish to avoid having an impartial judge rule on something so important as where your child will live, you may want to consider mediation. Mediation allows two divorcing or separating parents to make decisions regarding the terms of their divorce, including child custody. You must be able to come to mutual agreements with your spouse in order to successfully complete mediation, however, so this is only an ideal option for those people who believe they can do so.
Parenting Time (Visitation) in Michigan
Visitation, known as “parenting time” in Michigan, is similar to but somewhat different than child custody. Parenting time is the amount of time each parent is allowed to spend with their child. It can be awarded even when one parent has primary or sole custody. The court will often work with the parents in order to set up a parenting time schedule.
The amount of time a child will spend with each parent depends on a wide variety of factors, including but not limited to:
- The child’s school schedule, including vacations, holidays, and summer breaks
- The work schedule of each parent
- Where each parent lives in regards to the child’s school/location of other activities
- The needs of the child, including any special medical needs
- Holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions
- The relationship between each parent and the child
It is rare that a parent is not allowed any parenting time whatsoever; however, it may happen if the court believes that the child’s health, safety, or wellbeing may be in jeopardy if he/she spends time with a parent.
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LGBTQ parents may have unique concerns when it comes to child custody. If your spouse’s daughter is not biologically related to you, will you still be able to spend time with her? What if you never formally adopted your son?
Michigan’s Equitable Parent Doctrine allows an individual to retain parenting rights even if he or she is not the biological parent of the child or has not formally adopted the child. This ruling, originally passed in 1987, was expanded in 2015 to apply to LGBTQ parents. As long as a parenting relationship has been established between you and the child in question, you can exercise your right to parenting time.
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