What Is the Court’s Prevailing Attitude about Child Custody?

Interviewer: Let’s discuss child custody. Is it true that current thinking does not promote the idea of the mother being awarded sole custody?

Attitudes Have Changed about Parenting Roles and the Courts Do Prefer Both Parents to Have Equal Time Sharing with the Children

Paul Tafelski: Attitudes are changing quite a bit. First of all, I think there’s a lot more mothers that work full time and work just as much as the fathers do. So the fathers will say, “Well, why shouldn’t the children be able to spend as much time with me?”

There are many more fathers now who are actively involved in the school and after-school activities and the homework as well as driving the children to their activities. They may work closer to the child’s school and have a more predictable schedule, and just do a better job of parenting.

It’s becoming a little easier for the men to defend themselves and present themselves in a way that demonstrates to the court that they should have just as much parenting time. Also there are more women, I think, that are comfortable with the husband or father having more parenting time than they used to before.

The truth is that most times, you have two parents that are cooperative and want to work together to make their kids be as happy and healthy as possible. There is a lot of time when both parents can be involved in raising the children.

Most Women Are Now Employed Full Time and Are Happy to Receive Parenting Assistance from the Father

Sometimes, the women realize that, “Look, it’s nice to have a break.” It’s nice especially if you’re working full time and you got two or three kids. It’s nice to have a break while the father sees the children more.

I think, in general, it’s just been a slow progression of the court’s coming around to saying, “Why shouldn’t this person have more parenting time?” That’s not to say that happens in every case and with every judge.

Custody Disputes: Why Is It Far Better to Decide Time Sharing Prior to Going before a Judge?

You have some judges who are still very much pro-mother and you have others who are much more pro-father than the average judge and then you have some in between. Really, which judge your case lands with would have a big role in the outcome of your custody matter if it turns out to be disputed.

Keep in mind 90% of the cases, the parties work out the agreement themselves before a judge ever has to decide it. The judges are pretty good about letting you know throughout the process that you’re better off figuring your own life out—as opposed to letting them do it. Sometimes, they’ll even make decisions that anger both parties to just sort of teach that lesson.

In Parts of Michigan, the Parties Will Be Required to Attend a Mediation Session Prior to Going before a Judge

Interviewer:  Is that what family law mediation is about?

Paul Tafelski: Typically, in all of the three main counties in Detroit, Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb County, the courts will require the parties to go to mediation before they will allow them to have a trial in front of the judge. Mediation is a non-binding process where the parties agree on a neutral third party, usually another attorney, to serve as the mediator.

A Mediator Is a Neutral Party That Facilitates Resolution of Disputes

Both sides will then show up at that mediator’s office and usually the attorney and the client will sit in one room and the opposing attorney and the other client will sit in another room. The mediator will walk back and forth between the parties talking about the case and just simply trying to get them to move closer towards an agreement. They are really just trying to settle the case.

They are not trying to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. Although, they will usually give you input as to what they think the judge will do in your situation or whether they think you’re more or less likely to have the stronger position in that particular issue. It’s a very effective technique especially with good mediators and good lawyers involved.

Mediation Is Cost and Time Effective and Still Allows the Parties to Have Control over Decisions

About two-thirds of cases will get settled at mediation. That ends up saving the clients the cost of trial preparation and doing the actual trial. It eliminates the uncertainty of having the judge decide everything and gets the case over more quickly than if you wait for a trial. There are a lot of benefits to it and the courts will almost always require it before you can have a trial in front of them.

If you can’t reach an agreement then your case proceeds on. If you do reach an agreement, you’re bound by it and the court will enforce that agreement even if you change your mind later. The beauty of it is if you make an agreement, it’s final. If you don’t then your case just moves on.

Michigan Calculates Child Support Amounts Using the Child Support Formula Program

Interviewer: Let’s discuss the formula that determines child support. That’s my first question.

Paul Tafelski: In Michigan, we have what’s called the Child Support Formula. That formula considers a number of factors. The main factors have to do with how many overnight visits does each parent have with the children and how much money does each parent earn in reality.

Now, the earnings include overtime, bonuses, things like that, most anything that would go on your tax return must be included as earnings. Even sometimes, if a person voluntarily stops working or lowers their income, the court can impute income to them and calculate their child support based upon how much they could be earning.

Child Support Is Rarely Agreed upon by Both Parties in a Divorce

You put that information into a computer program and push the button and it will then tell you how much the child support is going to be. Most of the time, the person receiving the child support thinks it’s not enough and the person paying it thinks it’s way too much.

There Are Exceptions to the Formula

But the reality is, it is what it is and that’s what you’re going to be stuck with. The only way to change really the amount of support is to change the data that goes into the program. Now, the exception to that is going to be where the party might be a very-high-income person and they can make a strong argument that the amount of support being called for by the formula is unnecessary. It is outside and beyond the lifestyle that they want the children to be living.

Sometimes, when you get into real high-income situations, you can argue to deviate from that child support formula. Also sometimes, if one parent is going to live in a different state and there’s going to be an increase in the amount of travel expenses. This is through no fault of their own and sometimes you can get the formula to be a little bit lower than normal. This is because that person is going to be incurring these additional expenses to see the children.

Is Day Care Expenses Covered by Child Support?

Interviewer: What about other factors like day care? Would some of that cover be covered through child support?

Paul Tafelski: Yes. You have the child support figure which is purely for support and it’s based upon income. The formula also takes in to consideration day care expenses and uninsured medical expenses like orthodontics or psychological treatment or sometimes tutoring.

They usually calculate that based upon the parties’ percentages of income. If husband makes twice as much as wife, then husband will probably pay two-thirds of the day care cost and two-thirds of the uninsured medical expenses. This is because of the fact that his income ends up being two-thirds of the total pot and hers ends up being one-third of the total pot. That’s how they usually provide for those extra expenses.

Most of the time, child support gets paid through an automatic income withholding order that gets sent to the person-who-pays’ employer and it gets taken out of their paycheck. It is then directly deposited into an account for the person receiving the money.

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