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What Justifies Granting Sole Legal Custody in Michigan?

I am a divorce lawyer in the Rochester area of Oakland County, Michigan. My office is easily accessible to Lake Orion, Troy, Oxford, Beverly Hills, Birmingham, Bloomfield, Clarkston, Rochester Hills, and Macomb County.

 Legal custody regards decision making for the child such as religious upbringing, what school the child should attend and access to a child's records. In most cases, the parents share joint legal custody which seems appropriate as this allows the parent to be involved in basic decisions for his or her child and allows the parent to be informed about medical conditions and scholastic activity. However, there are some cases where the court orders that one parent will have sole legal custody.

The Issue

What justifies granting sole legal custody in Michigan?

The Answer

The case of Poag-Emery v. Emery, Mich COA No. 318401, April 22, 2014 (unpublished) provides an example of the type of conduct which will result in the court granting one parent sole legal custody.

In Poag, the mother filed for divorce in Grand Rapids when she was five months pregnant with the child. She moved to Chicago before the birth of the child and the child was born there in May 2008. In July 2008, the court entered an order granting joint legal custody with temporary primary physical custody to mother but she was ordered to cooperate in allowing the father reasonable parenting time both in Chicago and Grand Rapids. She was to give him her address in Chicago and advise him when she returned to Grand Rapids.

In August 2008, mother attempted to start a new case in Chicago but the judge there dismissed the case as there was already a case in Michigan. In September 2008, the parties agreed to a consent judgment of divorce which awarded joint legal custody. In addition, the Court awarded father parenting time from noon to 4 pm on Saturday and 10 am to 2 pm on Sunday on alternating weekends in Chicago and if the mother brings the child to Grand Rapids she was to provide advance notice to the father so that he could conduct parenting time. It also granted the father parenting time on alternating holidays and ordered a review on May 1, 2009.

Two months later, the mother filed a motion alleging the father breached the judgment and the father in return alleged that the mother consistently refused to allow unsupervised parenting time with the child and disrupted Sunday parenting time by insisting that she take the seven-month-old to church and that she failed to maintain a phone line to allow communication regarding parenting time and custody.

On May 1, 2009, at the scheduled review the father alleged the mother had repeatedly frustrated and restricted his opportunity for unsupervised parenting time to the point where he had to call the police to achieve parenting time and that the mother refused to take his phone calls to arrange his parenting time. The court ordered that the father was awarded two eight-hour periods on alternating weekends on Saturday and Sunday, then starting August 1, 2009 alternate weekends from 9 am Saturday to 6 pm Sunday as well as vacation and holidays

On April 7, 2011 the mother filed for an emergency protective order alleging that the child had been injured while in the father's care. The court denied her motion and added that her previous activities have appeared to be an attempt to prevent the father's contact with the child. The father then filed a motion for a change of custody citing the mother's refusal to abide by the parenting time orders, false allegations of child abuse and meritless jurisdictional challenges. The court ordered both parties to undergo psychological assessment due to concerns that the mother was engaging in parental alienation toward the father. The parties agreed to share joint legal and physical custody on October 8, 20111 before the hearing date on the custody motion.

On September 9, 2011, the mother filed an emergency motion regarding the return of the minor child. The court contacted the mother's attorney who stated that he did not request that the petition be filed nor did he agree with it. The next day, the mother filed an amended motion, the court denied the motion. The next day the mother filed a third emergency motion which was denied.

On October 18, 2011 the father filed an emergency petition for the mother to return the child to him. The court granted the motion, ordered the police to assist with the return and suspended mother's parenting time pending a psychological evaluation. The mother then attempted to vacate all the decisions of the Michigan court and transfer the case to Illinois which was denied. The parties then agreed to an order for joint legal custody but with physical custody to the father.

Finally on May 10, 2013, the father moved for sole legal custody because, among other problems, the mother refused to agree on a therapist (of any kind) for the child and refused to agree to enroll the child in the kindergarten in Grand Rapids apparently claiming the child should be enrolled in a school in Chicago even though the father had physical custody of the child. The court granted the father sole legal custody.


Sole legal custody is relatively rare, but where one parent continually violates court orders and cannot agree even upon the most basic issues, the court will grant sole legal custody.

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