Michigan courts recognize that divorce is an emotional period for everyone in the family. They also know that matters can become heated between parents who are soon to be ex-spouses and sometimes, agreeing on anything seems impossible. That is why family law is structured to uphold the best interests of the child.
According to state law, courts encourage families to work out custody and visitation issues for themselves. But make no mistake: It is the court that has final say in these and other matters involving minors caught up in a divorce.
When parents want to share custody and can agree on the arrangements, the court must grant the request, unless it determines joint custody is not the best choice for the child. A judge may also consider joint custody without a request from either parent. Along with custody issues, the court must judge whether parents can work together to make critical decisions affecting their child, such as medical and educational matters.
If parents are at odds with custody and other issues, the court may choose to name a lawyer-guardian to speak for the child's needs. To reach a decision on custody when parents cannot agree, a judge must weigh a variety of elements as defined by the Michigan Child Custody Act.
One consideration is whether each parent will support ongoing relationships between their child and the other spouse. The court recognizes the importance of family ties and considers all aspects in making its decision, including the family unit. That includes grandparents and other members of the immediate family who are living together, how long this unit has been in place, and whether it is a permanent situation (minus one of the parents).
One of the goals of a custody and visitation decision is to maintain a sense of continuity for the child. The judge looks at the abilities of both parents to not only love and show affection but whether they can continue to give guidance and ensure education and religious training, if applicable.
The abilities of parents to meet the material needs of the child are, of course, part of the puzzle, too. A child must have a home, food and clothing, and may also have medical and dental needs.
Along with the child's needs, the court considers his wishes. If the child is mature enough, the judge typically will determine whether the child has a preference in living with one or the other parent.