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Updated: Nov 10, 2023

When it comes to child custody disputes in Michigan, the courts are always going to consider first and foremost what is in the best interests of the child.

We say this recently with a case before the Michigan Court of Appeals, wherein the appellate panel affirmed a trial court judgment granting the child's mother primary physical custody.

Factors Affecting Child Custody Rulings

Although the Michigan Child Custody Act, MCL 722.21, presumes it's in the best interests of the child to have a strong relationship with both parents - a joint custody is often a part of that - our Troy child custody attorneys can explain the court takes many different factors into consideration. These include:

  • Love, affection and other emotional ties between parties involved and the child;

  • Capacity and disposition of parties involved to give child live, guidance and affection and to continue child's education;

  • Capacity of parties involved to provide child food, clothing, medical care and other remedial care;

  • Length of time child has lived in stable, satisfactory environment and desirability of maintaining continuity;

  • Moral, mental and physical fitness of parties involved;

  • Domestic violence;

  • Reasonable preference of the child, if he or she is of an age sufficient to express preference.

This list is not exhaustive, but it all comes down not to what is considered "fair" for the parents, as may be the case in a Michigan divorce. Rather, it's what is best for the child.

There are two different types of child custody in Michigan: Legal and physical. Legal custody refers to a person's right to make important life decisions for the child. Physical custody involves where the child will physically reside.

Every Michigan Child Custody Case is Unique

The case recently before the Michigan appellate court involved a dispute over physical custody. According to court records, plaintiff (mother) and defendant (father) dated for approximately two years, but separated after plaintiff became pregnant with their child. When the child was about 4-months-old, defendant moved for primary physical custody of the child. Defendant argued plaintiff had wrongfully kept him from developing a relationship with the child, had him physically escorted out of the hospital when she gave birth and denied or ignored his attempts to see the child. She also lived with her grandmother. Plaintiff, meanwhile alleged defendant was stalking her, showed up every day at her work and at least once physically attacked her and violated a protection order.

At a hearing before the trial court, it was revealed defendant had an 11-year-old daughter from a previous relationship with whom he did not share a tight bond. He also was expecting a child with his new girlfriend and she and her children from a prior relationship would be moving in with him. In order to accommodate this child in question and the others at his home, defendant said he would have to either move or build an addition. It was also revealed defendant had returned his child with plaintiff after just one hour of visitation because the child was "fussy."

Trial court ultimately ruled plaintiff should have primary physical custody of the child, with shared parenting time to be outlined. Defendant appealed, arguing trial court erred in finding this arrangement was in the best interests of the child. The appellate court affirmed.

In this case, trial court found five factors that favored plaintiff, one factor that favored defendant and that the rest were neutral. Appellate panel ruled the trial court's decision was not against the greater weight of the evidence and affirmed. If you are grappling with a difficult child custody dispute in Michigan, our dedicated, compassionate attorneys can help.


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