Child Custody: Best Interest Factors
Whether the court is determining the initial child custody order, or modifying the order after a judgment has been entered, it will consider the “best interest factors.” In Michigan, the best interest factors help the referee or judge determine what custody or parenting time arrangement is truly in the best interests of the children.
Child custody is a term that refers to rights and responsibilities for each parent and child. Custody is not a term used to indicate ownership, but rather a determination of the time a child is going to be with each parent and each parent’s responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the child. Custody can be modified to accommodate significant changes in the lives of the children or the parents involved. The judge attempts to structure custody to promote a strong relationship between children and their parents. The only time this is not true is when the judge determines that custody with a particular individual would endanger the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health.
Parents in custody cases who agree to work together can resolve the custody agreement with the help of their attorneys, the help of the friend of the court office, and/or the process of mediation. Parents can also work through the court system to obtain or modify custody by filing the proper paperwork. However, if parents in custody cases have not reached an agreement, the judge is asked to determine when a child is going to be with each parent.
To make a determination, the Judge must use the best interest factors. Some factors may favor you, or they may favor your spouse. The amount of weight given to each factor is a matter of interpretation for the judge or referee.
MCL 722.23 "Best interests of the child" defined
As used in this act, "best interests of the child" means the sum total of the following factors to be considered, evaluated, and determined by the court:
(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 to continue the education and raising of the child in his or her 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 considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
(j) The willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parents. A court may not consider negatively for the purposes of this factor any reasonable action taken by a parent to protect a child or that parent from sexual assault or domestic violence by the child's 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.
The Judge will enter a Custody Order based on all of the factors, viewed as a whole. Not every factor is weighed the same. And not every Judge will place the same weight on the same factors.
Each factor has sub-categories that further define their meaning. Case law has further defined each factor to provide further insight into the factors.
It is important to consult with an Attorney if you are preparing for a divorce involving children or you think that there has been a change in circumstances that should result in a new Custody Order.
If you have questions regarding custody of your children, please call me, Attorney Steven Storrs, at 269-945-2242 or click here to contact me to set up an appointment to discuss your options.
*This blog is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult an attorney before making important decisions regarding your individual situation.