A determination of a child’s custody is the often the most emotional, stressful and difficult part of a divorce case. It is also one of the most important. A child deserves to be raised by parents ready, willing and able to care for their changing needs. Custody really has to do with 2 things, allocation of legal responsibilities and the division of parenting time. It is important to reach the right solution to the issues in a sensitive fashion, so as not to alienate a child from one of the parents, or put undue pressure on a child to decide, while at the same time ensuring that you are not giving one parent more responsibility than they are capable of taking on. Children can be dramatically affected by the actions of their parents while a divorce or custody dispute is tied up in the courts, and if handled improperly, the divorce and custody dispute can cause the children damage that can last a lifetime.
People often think of “custody” as physical custody but in fact there are actually two separate types of custody which must be dealt with in every case.
Legal Custody: Legal custody is the right and obligation for major decision-making for a child regarding their health and medical care, education and religious upbringing. Legal custody is not determined by the parenting time schedule. In the majority of cases, barring special circumstances, the court will award the parties “joint legal custody”. “Joint legal custody” means that the parties shall be entitled to equal access to the educational, medical, religious and other pertinent records of the child. The parties shall jointly determine the necessity of elective medical care of a major nature and shall make joint decisions on the religious and educational upbringing of the child. There are, however, circumstances where granting joint legal custody is illogical, impractical, or contrary to the best interests of the child.
Physical Custody: Physical custody has no concise definition under Michigan Laws. Physical custody is based on the parenting time schedule negotiated by the parents or decided by the court. In some cases, one party will be the primary (sometimes called “sole”) physical custodian, which in essence just means that the minor child(ren) reside with them the vast majority of the time. On the other hand, joint physical custody contemplates a more equal division of parenting time. Most courts are moving away from the term “physical custody” because of the emotional weight given it, and instead use terminology referring to the division of parenting time.
If you have questions about child custody in Michigan, please contact Metro Detroit divorce attorney Carlo Martina to schedule a free consultation.