Michigan courts decide child custody by considering the best interests of the children involved. State law sets out the factors that a court must consider before issuing a custody order. The factors are:
- The relationship between the child and each parent, including love, affection, and emotional ties. The court wants to understand how attached the child is to each parent and what their relationship is like.
- The ability of each parent to give the child love, affection, and guidance and the parents’ abilities to continue the child’s education. The court must also consider the parents’ abilities to continue raising the child in his or her religion or creed. Courts are looking for the parent most likely to give the child emotional support and assistance in becoming a successful adult.
- The ability of the parents to meet the child’s needs, such as food, clothing, and medical care and other material needs. Meeting a child’s basic needs is essential.
- How long the child has lived in a stable and satisfactory home and whether it is desirable to continue that living arrangement. If a parent has moved often or had boyfriends or girlfriends moving in and out of the home, the home is not stable.
- The permanence of the family unit in each parent’s home, which includes the relationships of anyone else living in the home. If a parent has remarried or has a new relationship, the court wants to be sure that family unit is stable so the child can have a reliable family.
- The moral fitness of the parents. Arrests, substance abuse, and other concerns can cause a court to question a parent’s ability to be a good role model.
- The parents’ mental and physical health and how it affects their ability to parent.
- Whether the child has thrived or had problems in the home, school, and community. If a child is not doing well in the current home, the court may be more likely to consider a change.
- Where the child wants to live, if the child is old enough to express a preference. It is up to the judge to decide whether the child is old enough to express a preference.
- The willingness and ability of each parent to support and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent. Parents who are unwilling to support this relationship are less likely to obtain custody.
- Domestic violence involving the parents, even if it did not involve the child or the child did not witness it, because it relates to the safety and stability of the environment.
- Any other factor the court considers relevant for a particular child in a particular case. This gives judges a lot of leeway and opens the door for a variety of evidence.
Michigan presumes that joint custody is in the best interest of the child, but courts make individual decisions in each case based on the facts and the child’s particular needs.