If you have children and you anticipate a divorce, you might be worried about how much time you will have with the children. Parenting time is one of the greatest challenges for family court judges. As King Solomon asked, “How can you split up a child?” There is no simple way to divide a child between two people, which begs the question --- How do judges determine child visitation orders? Talking with an experienced child visitation lawyer can help answer this question. In the meantime, we've put together a list of factors that a judge may consider in determining child visitation.
In Michigan, if the parents cannot agree on a schedule of custody and visitation, judges use the “best interests of the child” factors contained in the Michigan Child Custody Act. The Act lists 12 factors judges should consider, but they do not have to give each factor equal weight. Here are the 12 factors:
- The emotional ties of the parents to the child, such as love and affection. Another way of saying this is to look at how closely bonded the parents are to the child.
- The likelihood of each party to nurture the child, continue his education, and raise him in his religion or creed, if faith is an issue.
- Whether each parent will provide the food, clothing, medical care, and other material needs of the child.
- How long the child had lived in a stable environment and whether the parents will maintain that continuity.
- The permanence of the home environments of each parent.
- The moral fitness of each parent.
- The physical and mental health of the parents.
- How the child has done in the home, school, and community in the past.
- In a child of sufficient age, the preferences of the child.
- The likelihood of each parent to encourage a healthy relationship of the child with the other parent, unless the other parent has committed sexual assault or domestic violence toward the child or parent.
- Past domestic violence between the parents. For this factor, the child does not have to have seen or experienced the violence.
- Any other factor the judge deems relevant.
The 12 Factors Demystified
Depending on the facts of your case, some of the factors will overshadow the others. The judge will look at the situation holistically, trying to see the entire portrait of your family story. Judges are hesitant to uproot a child who is in a stable, appropriate environment. Michigan law prompts judges to ask if the child has an “established custodial environment” (ECE) with either or both parents. If the answer is yes, the parent wanting to make a change will have a heavier burden of proof to convince the judge that disturbing the current arrangement is in the child's best interest.
Michigan judges are astute enough to realize that daily life does not follow details on paper. In other words, even if your parenting order says both parents are responsible for buying the child clothes, for example, judges know that in many families, one parent will do the lion's share of the clothes shopping. A child may turn to one parent more than the other for food, housing, homework help, structure, guidance, and love and affection. These facts are part of the process of determining the child's custodial environment.
A child custody dispute is not a DIY project. If you are thinking about divorce, talk to divorce lawyer Cameron C. Goulding for a confidential consultation.