What Are the Child Custody Laws in Michigan?

Michigan bases custody decisions on the best interests of the child

Portrait of mother hugging son
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Michigan uses several criteria to determine child custody. Collectively, these factors are designed to help the court determine what type of custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child. This is pretty much the case in every state, but each state may define "best interests" a little differently or put more weight on one best interests factor than another. 

Joint Custody in Michigan 

Parents are encouraged to jointly reach an agreement on custody in Michigan that provides for ample time for the child with each of them.

Ideally, the agreement will give each parent input into major decisions regarding the child's upbringing and life. If that's not possible because both parents want sole custody or because the parents have a particularly contentious relationship, a judge will decide custody terms based on what he feels is in the child's best interests and a list of best interests factors he must weigh. 

Michigan's Best Interests of Child Standards 

Michigan's best interests factors include:

  • The mental and physical health of the parents
  • Any history of domestic violence
  • The child's preference if the child is of a sufficient age and maturity level to make a reasonable decision, usually age 12 or older
  • Each parent's willingness to communicate and encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent
  • The length of time the child has lived in a loving and stable environment. If a child has been predominantly living with one parent and is thriving in that arrangement, it's not likely that a judge would be willing to uproot him without good cause.
  • Each parent's ability to provide for the child's needs, including food, shelter and medical care
  • The child's ties to his neighborhood, school, and community. Again, courts are reluctant to uproot a child without a good reason.  
  • Each parent's moral fitness

Judges are not limited to making decisions based on this list – they can consider any other factors they deem to be important as well.

Modification of Child Custody in Michigan

A court in Michigan will only modify a child custody order if there is clear and convincing evidence that a meaningful change of circumstances has occurred and a modification of custody will serve the best interests of the child. The judge is obligated to first determine if an "established custodial environment" or ECE exists – the child has been in his current home for an extended period of time and is accustomed to looking to one particular parent for guidance and comfort and to meet his daily needs. Modification is more likely to be granted when an ECE does not exist. Continuity for the child is considered paramount. 

Relocation and Child Custody in Michigan

A parent entitled to custody or visitation can only move from the state or 100 miles or more from the parent's current location if she obtains permission from a family court judge. Exceptions exist if the child's other parent agrees to the move, if the parents are already living 100 miles or more apart, or if the relocating parent has sole custody. Court permission isn't necessary if the move somehow results in parents living more closely together. 

When a judge's permission is required, the burden of proof falls to the relocating parent to prove how and why such a move would benefit the child.

This might be the case because the parent has a better employment opportunity in the new location or because she would gain the support network of extended family members. The relocating parent must provide the court with her new address and a revised visitation/custody schedule that accommodates the move and maintains meaningful contact between the child and the parent who is not relocating. 

For more information about child custody in Michigan, speak with a qualified local attorney or refer to the Michigan Child Custody Act.