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Michigan Family Law Blog

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

What Does a Judge Consider Before Modifying Child Custody Orders?

Child custody orders are not written in stone in Michigan. They are living documents that the judge can change when appropriate. If you are facing the possibility of changing the parenting plan in your case, you might be wondering what a judge considers before modifying child custody orders.

The Legal Standard for Reconsidering the Existing Custody Order

Unless it is a temporary order, the judge is not allowed to consider modifying the existing child custody order unless she can identify either proper cause or a change in circumstances. A minor change will not satisfy the requirements for modification. There must be something that is different now from how things were at the time of the most recent custody order. The party asking for the new order must prove that the change in circumstances either already has or could have a profound impact on the child. This is where it pays to have an experienced modifications lawyer on your side.

The Twelve Factors for Determining the Best Interests of the Child

Even if you and the other parent reach an agreement on a custody modification, the judge must run the proposed plan through an analysis to make sure the plan will be in the best interests of the child. The statutory “12 factors” or “best interest factors” in Michigan are:

  1. The emotion ties between the parents and the child
  2. The ability and likelihood of the parents to provide love and guidance to the child, continue his education and raise him in his religion or creed if he observes one
  3. The ability and likelihood of the parents to meet the child’s material needs, medical care, food, and clothing
  4. How long the child has been living in an adequate, stable environment, and whether it would be good to continue that environment
  5. How stable and permanent the family unit is in each parent’s household
  6. Each parent’s moral fitness
  7. Each parent’s physical and mental health
  8. The child’s home, school, and community history and each parent’s involvement in those
  9. The child’s wishes, if the judge feels the child is old enough to express her wishes
  10. The likelihood of each parent to foster a healthy relationship and communication between the child and the other parent, unless there has been relevant sexual assault or domestic violence involving the other parent
  11. Domestic violence in the home
  12. Any other factor the court finds relevant, such as special needs of the child


Some Examples of Sufficient Cause or Change in Circumstances to Support a Modification

Child abuse or neglect by a parent can justify a modification of the custody order. If a parent starts to abuse alcohol or other drugs, is away from the home inappropriately, or as a standard of course does not provide adequate care for the child, the judge might modify the custody order.

The Previous Child Custody Order Controls Until the Judge Signs a New Order

People sometimes make the mistake of filing a request to change the custody, and then following the new proposed arrangement without the judge’s approval. Even if the other parent agrees with the new plan, the old order is in effect until the moment the judge signs the new order. Parents often follow the new schedule amicably before the judge’s signature, but doing so risks the other parent involving the police to enforce the old (but still in effect) child custody order.

Custody modifications are not DIY projects. Contact Michigan child custody modifications attorney Cameron C. Goulding today to schedule a consultation and explore your options.


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