Issues of custody and parenting time are the hallmark of our firm’s practice. Nothing can replace time with our children. Being a single father who went through this process, Paul uniquely understands this.
If two parents are married, matters of custody will be resolved in the divorce process. If the parents are not married, those cases start with a Complaint for Custody, Complaint for Paternity or Complaint for Support. Once this occurs, the other parent is served and they have 21 days to file an answer with the court. If they do not, our firm will file the appropriate papers to pursue a “default” against them.
Courts more and more are leaning toward joint custody and shared parenting time in custody situations. No longer is it simply assumed that one parent will have custody. Judges generally believe that every child needs two active parents.
However, each case is different and fact specific. Not every situation is suited for joint custody. First, the Child Custody Act, by way of MCL 722.27(c), requires a court to determine if an established custodial environment exists for the child. If it does, statute does not allow a court to change it absent clear and convincing evidence that doing so would be in the child’s best interests. This is true regardless of fault by one of the parents, the prior existence of a court order and what it says or anything else. “The court is not to be concerned with the reasons behind the existence of an established custodial environment but only that it exists,” Treutle v Treutle, 197 Mich App 690 (1992).
Typically, the Court will look to the past 6 to 9 months of the child’s life and ask questions such as: Who has the child spent more of their time with? Who handles school, medical and religious matters? Who does the child naturally turn to when they need love, care, guidance and discipline?
In cases where the parents have not separated yet, the trend is typically toward shared parenting time. That may not be practical if one parent works 2nd or 3rd shift, travels a lot, has engaged in significant domestic violence or has challenges with substance abuse (drugs or alcohol). Another challenge to joint custody might be the distance between where parents live.
If you have had primary custody of your child in the time leading up to litigation starting, our firm will advocate in accordance with MCL 722.27(c). Children need stability and permanence. Changes should only be done in extreme circumstances.
If you have not had primary custody of your child, we will work to build up your parenting time. If a parent does not have substance abuse issues or other flags that would prevent them from parenting the child, our judges are generally receptive to starting a parent off with alternate two night weekends with a mid-week visitation on a temporary basis. If there has been a long gap between contacts with the children, the court will take the introduction, or re-introduction, period slower. From there, we can develop strategies to increase parenting time before a final order is entered.
Even when an established custodial environment exists with one parent, it is common for judges to consider equally dividing summer parenting time.
When a parent has problems such as uncontrolled anger and violence, instability in housing or substance abuse, the Court may favor supervised parenting time and monitor how that parent is addressing their challenges on an interim basis before entering a final order.
If both parents are living with the child, or have been recently, expect many of our judges to order some form of shared parenting time. If the child is over 4 years of age, “week on, week off” orders with exchanges on Sunday evenings or at school on Mondays are parenting time arrangements favored by our courts.
All judges give tremendous deference to the agreement of parents on custody and parenting time matters. Almost always, this is what is best for the children. Our firm will work closely with you and the other parent’s attorney to craft a solution that works best for your children.