When married couples in Michigan get divorced or legally separated, the court must enter an order establishing child custody and parenting time. But whether the terms of these arrangements were established by mutual agreement between the parents or by a judge when the couple could not agree on terms, they can be modified under certain conditions.
At Fieger Law, we handle Michigan family law disputes. In this blog post, we discuss when and how divorced or legally separated parents can modify child custody orders in Michigan.
Types of Legal Custody in Michigan
There are two kinds of child custody that can be established by a family law court in Michigan:
Legal custody deals with a parent’s right to access information about and make decisions for their kids concerning religion, medical treatment, school, etc.
A parent with physical custody is the one who the kids spend the most time with or live with. Physical custody essentially deals with how parenting time will be allocated between the parents after a divorce or legal separation. Not every child necessarily has one parent with physical custody, but everyone will have a parenting time schedule.
Both types of custody can be either sole or joint: sole custody means that a sole parent enjoys custody, and joint custody means that both parents share custody.
How Child Custody Orders are Modified in Michigan
For a child custody order to be modified in Michigan, a new court order must be issued for the modification of custody to be legally binding. Modifying a child custody order in Michigan has three fundamental requirements:
A Proper Cause or Change of Circumstances
First, the parent requesting a modification needs to show that there is a proper cause or a change of circumstances to start the process. A change of circumstances is when something significant has happened since the last child custody order that affects the child’s life, such that a custody modification would be in the child’s best interest.
Some examples that would warrant a modification include the occurrence of abuse or neglect, an arrest or conviction of a parent, or a drug or alcohol-related incident.
There are also some gray areas when it comes to a proper cause or change in circumstances. For example, one parent dropping the kids off at school late once or twice a month probably will not count as a proper cause or change in circumstances, but if the children are consistently late or absent from school, the court might find that a modification in the custody order is in the best interest of the children.
An Established Custodial Environment
The court cannot modify an existing child custody order without first determining if an established custodial environment exists, either with one parent, the other parent, or with both parents. Only then will the burden of proof required of the parent requesting the modification be known.
Essentially, if there is an established custodial environment, the other party needs to show clear and convincing evidence that a modification is needed. In the absence of an established custodial environment, the party seeking the modification needs to show by a preponderance of the evidence (a lower burden of proof) that a modification is needed.
The court aims to have a child’s life disrupted as little as possible. In other words, where there is an established custodial environment, the court will be reluctant to make any changes unless it deems that change warranted.
As such, there has to be an actual change in circumstances since the original custody order. One parent cannot ask for more time simply because the other parent works at night if the other parent worked at night when the existing custody order was established.
Furthermore, the bigger the change in parenting time being requested, the bigger the change in circumstances has to be. Also, the bigger the change being requested, the more evidence needed.
Best Interests of the Child
Finally, the court will ask if the modification is in the best interest of the child. The various factors that must be evaluated to determine if a child custody decision is in the best interest of the child are listed very specifically in Michigan law, and can be found in the state’s Child Custody Act, MCL 722.23.
The parent requesting a modification of an existing child custody order must present evidence on each of these factors so that the judge can make an informed decision about modifying custody and/or parenting time. If after evaluating all the best interest of the child factors, the court decides modifying the existing child custody order is warranted, it will grant the modification and issue a new order.
Contact Fieger Law Today for Help with a Michigan Family Law Issue
Family law deals with very emotional situations, making it one of the most sensitive areas of law. Strong emotions can make it difficult for parents to see what is in their children’s best interest. Because of this, cases involving family law in Michigan can be really stressful and tough on everyone, including the children.
By working with an experienced family law attorney at Fieger Law, Michigan parents can successfully resolve their family law issues in a manner that is fair and equitable and that enables everyone to begin the healing process.
To get more information about how we can help you resolve a Michigan child custody dispute, contact Fieger Law to arrange a free consultation with a knowledgeable Michigan family lawyer. Call us today.