Michigan law requires courts making decisions about child custody to put the child's well-being first, over the wishes of the parents. Judges accomplish this goal by using the “best interests of the child” standard. Before a court can enter an order of custody or visitation, it must make a finding that the terms of the proposed order are in the best interests of the child.
Judges have to evaluate multiple factors to determine the best interests of the child. Also, the courts must start from a neutral position as to gender; in other words, the judge cannot automatically assume that one parent will be a better choice for primary custody based only on gender. A Michigan divorce attorney can explain what Michigan dads need to know about child custody.
Types of Custody in Michigan
Like other states, Michigan has two types of custody – physical custody and legal custody. The court will have to decide both physical and legal custody in your divorce case.
Physical custody means where the child lives. If you and your spouse get joint custody, the child will live with you part of the time and your spouse the rest of the time. You will have a legally binding schedule of parenting time that contains the details of the custody arrangement.
If one parent has sole or primary custody, the child will live with that parent. The other parent might get scheduled visitation or parenting time with the child, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Legal custody refers to decision-making about important aspects of the child's life. The courts will assume that the parent whom the child is with on a given day has the capacity and right to make insignificant day-to-day choices on behalf of the child unless the court orders a different arrangement. Legal custody is not about those details.
Legal custody involves things like:
- Whether the child will attend a public school, private school, or be homeschooled.
- Who will serve as the child's doctors.
- Authorizing medical treatments like surgery, therapy, and prescription drugs.
The judge can order that one parent be the decision-maker as to educational issues while the other parent has the authority to make the medical decisions. Even in those situations, the parents typically have to at least talk to each other before making a final call on an important issue.
Child Support and Custody
Our state law requires judges to follow the Michigan Child Support Formula (formula) unless there is sufficient justification to deviate from it. The formula calculates the assumed amount of child support based on each parent's income, specific expenses like health care and childcare, and the number of overnights the child spends at each parent's house.
Although traditionally, fathers tended to pay child support to mothers, the mother might get ordered to pay child support, depending on the custody arrangements and the incomes of the parents. For example, if the parents have joint physical custody, but the mother makes significantly more income than the father, the mother might have to pay child support to the father.
If you are contemplating or going through a divorce, a Michigan divorce attorney can explain your legal rights and advocate on your behalf. Contact us today.