Although divorce can be a difficult process, it can be a lot more challenging when children are involved. While there may be mutual agreement in some cases, in many others there can be conflict and confrontation in regard to what happens with the children.
Who decides where the child lives? Who will have primary custody of the children? Who will pay child support? Having some idea of what a child custody battle involves can help you prepare for the courtroom appearances ahead.
The state of Michigan is a 50-50 or no-fault state. This means that the court does not look at any faults when considering granting a divorce. However, it may take fault into account when considering child custody and visitation rights. The sorts of faults it considers regarding children are domestic or child abuse and susbtance addiction, for example.
Michigan’s 1970 Child Custody Act views that is in the best interest of any children to have a relationship with both parents. With that in mind, when the court is looking at custody in a divorce case, they have a list of best interest factors that they look at in relation to the child. These factors help them make a decision as to which parent will hold legal and/or physical custody, or whether there will be joint physical custody and joint legal custody.
Michigan has two types of child custody: physical and legal. Physical custody is where the child will live and can include joint custody if the child will divide their time between both parents. Legal custody is when you make important decisions about your child’s life such as those related to education or healthcare.
Unless there is some threat of harm or a previous history of abuse or violence, always appear willing to work with your ex in the best interests of the child. This can include working together on a parenting plan that helps the children get through the divorce. Family courts tend to take any unnecessary unwillingness to work together as a negative sign and it may have some impact on the court’s final decision.
Observe Parental Rights and Access
In some cases, the court may make temporary court orders regarding access or visitation. This can happen as the divorce hearing may last many months, especially when it is a complicated case. If any such orders are in place, make sure you use that time and always turn up for any pre-arranged visits. Similarly, if you are the custodial parent, even if on a temporary basis, do not obstruct any planned visitation schedules or days out. If you do need to cancel an appointment, ensure it is documented and evidenced in case the court queries the incident.
If there are conflicting stories regarding the care of the children and you have custody during the divorce process, it can be a good idea to ask for a home evaluation so the court has a report on their current circumstances.
Perception vs. Reality
It may seem obvious, but the courts take people’s appearances very seriously. Always dress well for any court appearances, always be punctual, and let your attorney do most of the speaking and only say anything if you are asked to do so.
Learn What You Can
No-0ne expects you to know everything there is to know about family law in Michigan. That’s your attorney’s job. But it can be helpful to know some of the basics, especially in relation to your own case. While you may not talk much in any court hearing, this knowledge can help you understand the proceedings a little better.
Where there are things about your ex’s behavior that may affect the court’s decision, for example, a history of violence or abuse, severe mental health issues, substance use, etc., then any documentation which helps evidence negative behaviors can be a huge help. And this documentation does not need to be official. For example, if your ex has a history of violence and stalking you, keeping a diary of their behavior can be of help too.
Even though the courts like to look at equal time where possible in any custody evaluation, they take any violent or threatening behavior very seriously.
When it comes to choosing a lawyer, always find an attorney with extensive family law experience, and especially one who can demonstrate experience in fighting custody cases in court. Having a good theoretical knowledge of family law is all well and good, but when they have spent a good amount of time actually representing clients in court, that is more beneficial.
If the court has put a temporary order in place for you to make child support payments, ensure they arrive promptly and that you do not miss a payment. The court will take missed or delayed payments seriously and it may have an effect on their final decision.
How much you share with the children about the divorce will depend on how old they are. With older children, it is easier to have honest and frank discussions about what is happening. With some younger children, talking to them jointly – and thus showing a lot of cooperation – can be the best way to go.
But no matter what age the children are, never weaponize them. No matter how much conflict there has been between spouses, trying to turn your children against the other parent is not only immoral, it will also be viewed seriously by the court if they are presented with the facts.
Stick to the Truth
No matter which parent is filing for custody, always stick to the truth. Do not invent negative stories or exaggerate existing ones. The court wants to be able to honestly appraise the circumstances before making any custody orders. If you make up stories to show your ex in a bad light and you are found out, it may affect the court’s decision.
It is crucial that as little psychological damage as possible is done to your children. Divorce can be a frightening and confusing event for them and they often do not understand what is happening. Sometimes, the process calls for honesty and transparency, while with younger children, it can be best to proceed very carefully and sometimes even seek outside help.
Here at Michigan Premier Law, we have been working in the area of child custody for many years. We approach all these cases with empathy and understanding and try to make the process as clear and painless as possible. Our attorneys have extensive experience in family law and can advise you on each step of the process. If you would like to schedule a free initial appointment to discuss your case, you can call us at (248)-688-0045.