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Michigan Family Law Blog

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Can I Get Sole Legal Custody of My Children?

WHAT IS SOLE LEGAL CUSTODY IN MICHIGAN?

Generally speaking there are two types of custody in Michigan, physical custody and legal custody.  Physical custody is the traditional type of custody most people think of when talking about custody, that is with whom does the child spend the majority of the time.  Legal custody refers to joint decision making for the child about important life decisions, such as where they attend school, medical care decisions, religious upbringing and other such important considerations.  It also grants equal access to the child's school, health and other records.  In addition, in cases where there is joint legal custody, neither party may move more than two hundred (200) miles from where they resided at the time of entry of the judgment of divorce without the approval of the other parent or the court.  Joint legal custody is granted in the vast majority of divorce cases in Michigan.

Can I Get Sole Legal Custody of My Kids? 

Sole legal custody is difficult but not impossible to obtain.  In custody disputes between parents, the law states that the court shall advise them of joint custody. At the request of either parent, the court shall consider an award of joint custody, and shall state on the record the reasons for granting or denying a request. In other cases joint custody may be considered by the court. The court shall determine whether joint custody is in the best interest of the child by considering the following factors: (a) the best interests factors and (b) whether the parents will be able to cooperate and generally agree concerning important decisions affecting the welfare of the child.

The court has held that for joint legal custody to work, the parents must be able to agree with each other on basic issues in child rearing— including health care, religion, education, day to day decision-making and discipline—and they must be willing to cooperate with each other in joint decision making. If two equally capable parents whose marriage relationship has irreconcilably broken down are unable to cooperate and to agree generally concerning important decisions affecting the welfare of their children, the court has no alternative but to determine which parent shall have sole custody of the children.  If one is able to prove to the court that the parties cannot cooperate and agree regarding these decisions, then the court will grant one parent sole legal custody.

Recent Case Granting Sole Legal Custody to One Parent.

The recent case of Sturos v Sturos, Unpublished Michigan Court of Appeals Case No 344449, (April 23, 2019), provides a good example of a case where the court was convinced to grant the mother sole legal custody.  In that case, the trial court based its decision on the parties’ mutual animosity, including testimony that each of them had called the police on the other, and their inability to collaborate on medical decisions to the extent that they were changing their child’s medical appointments without letting the other parent know.

In addition to the numerous examples of the parties’ dislike of each other, the court found the following problematic issues that justified the decision.  First, the parties’ animosity negatively impacted their child’s ability to obtain medical treatment after an accident.  The father testified that the mother thwarted his ability to find out about their child's condition, changed doctor appointments so he couldn't attend, called the police on him while they were at another doctor appointment and did not tell him about rehabilitation appointments.  They could not agree on basic child-rearing issues, including huge differences in opinion about child discipline and a complete disagreement on whether the kids should even attend church or not.

If you are contemplating a divorce or need to modify legal custody, don’t hesitate to talk to an experienced Michigan family law attorney who can help you establish the need for these changes and propose alterations to the plan that are in the best interests of your children. Talk to family lawyer Cameron C. Goulding today at 248.608.4123 to determine your options.



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