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Michigan Family Law Blog

What's the Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody in Michigan?

Posted by Cameron Goulding | Jul 31, 2020 | 0 Comments

Child custody arrangements can present specific challenges and bring into question your rights as a parent, even in the most amicable circumstances. Meeting the needs of a child, satisfy the wants of each parent, and legally comply with Michigan's child custody laws can feel overwhelming, and you may need help from a Michigan child custody attorney.

Your child custody attorney will begin by explaining the difference between legal and physical custody in Michigan, sole or joint custody arrangements, and the factors used by Michigan courts to determine the custody arrangement for the child's best interest.

With a basic understanding of Michigan's custodial laws, you will be better able to work with your child custody attorney to reach a custody arrangement that best meets your child's needs.

Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody in Michigan

  • Legal custody references a parent's right to make significant decisions affecting their child, including medical treatment, education, and religious upbringing.
  • Physical custody refers solely to the child's living arrangements.

Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody

  • Sole custody grants one parent majority time with the child and the responsibility to make daily and major decisions regarding the welfare of the child. Sole custody does not necessarily exclude the non-custodial parent, as the court will often award parenting time to the non-custodial parent.
  • Joint custody means both parents share in decision making and physical custody of the child. Joint custody can be divided between legal and physical custody, where a parent may be granted joint legal custody without joint physical custody or vice versa.

Michigan law regards it in the best interest of a minor child to maintain a relationship with both parents, even when the parents do not reside together as in divorce cases. Accordingly, Michigan courts must consider joint custody if one or both parents requests it.

The Best Interest Factors: 12 Factors Influencing Child Custody in Michigan

When parents cannot agree on custody issues, the Michigan court will determine a custodial arrangement based on the best interests of the child.

The court will consider the parenting situation before divorce in combination with twelve factors, called The Best Interest Factors:

  1. The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
  5. The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
  6. The moral fitness of the parties involved.
  7. The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
  8. The home, school, and community record of the child.
  9. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
  10. 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.
  11. Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.
  12. Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

When to Contact A Michigan Child Custody Lawyer

Parents can be easily overcome by emotion and confusion about how to protect their own interests and the best interest of their child during Michigan custody disputes. Many variables must be addressed in a complete custody arrangement, and legal advice can be extremely reassuring.

If you and your spouse are trying to reach a custody or parenting agreement, seeking guidance from a local Michigan child custody attorney is essential. Contact us today to schedule your consultation.

About the Author

Cameron Goulding

A native of Oakland County, Michigan, family lawyer Cameron C. Goulding has been providing counseling and legal services of the highest caliber to individuals and families in Southeastern Michigan for over 24 years. Mr. Goulding grew up in Oakland County, Michigan and graduated from Birmingham G...


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