Child Custody in Michigan: 5 Steps to Open Your Case

Filing For Child Custody In Michigan

Filing for child custody in Michigan can seem like an overwhelming endeavor. Many parents in Michigan don’t even know how to open a child custody case. There are 5 steps you should be taking if you’re filing for custody of your children in Michigan.

Determine The Type of Case

In Michigan, you will need to open your case in the family division of your county court. In some counties, this is referred to as the domestic relations division, or family court. The judges in these divisions of the court have experience dealing with divorce, child custody, and other Michigan family law issues.

If you are currently married to your child’s other parent, then you can file for divorce or separate maintenance, which is often called legal separation. Both of these case types deal with child custody, parenting time, and child support.

If you are not married, you’ll need to confirm paternity, which can be done by filing an Affidavit of Parentage with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). If and when you have done this, then you need to file a custody case. This will include an order of child support and parenting time.

If you need a DNA test in order to confirm parentage, you can open a paternity case, which will also address parenting time, child support, and custody.

Complete Your Forms

Like any other court matter, it is imperative to have your forms completed and completed correctly.

The following forms should all be completed for your Michigan custody case:

Complaint: State your case type, detail the parenting schedule and plan you want, and explain why your requests are in the best interests of your child.

Verified Statement: Essentially an information sheet about you, your child and current living and contact information.

Friend of the Court Questionnaire: Used in the child support order.

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act Affidavit: Will help the judge determine custody of the child.

Application for IV-D Child Support Service: Only used if filing for divorce, separate maintenance, or other domestic case.

Summons: Notifies the other parent of the case.

There are other forms that can be filed, depending on the county you file in. If you cannot afford to file, you can complete a fee waiver request. In an emergency situation, an ex parte order can be filed also. If you are the parent opening the case, you are referred to as the plaintiff, and the other parent is the defendant.

Submit Your Forms to Open the Case

Turn in your signed and copied forms to the clerk’s office, and pay the filing fee (usually $250) or file your fee waiver request. You have now officially opened your case.

Your case will be referred to the Friend of the Court, and each county has different procedures. Be sure to ask the clerk what your next steps are.

Serve the Other Parent

Contrary to popular belief, you are responsible for serving the other parent. This must be done within 91 days of your filing. However, you can’t simply walk up and hand the other parent the court documents or email them.

Michigan law requires that your server be over 18 years of age, and uninvolved in the case. There are two options for serving the other parent, and you need to be sure that the service is completed, otherwise your case can be thrown out.

You can choose to have the child’s other parent served in-person, where you pay either the sheriff’s department to deliver the court documents, or hire a process server to do so. In this scenario, the other parent can either sign the summons, acknowledging receipt, or accept the documents but refuse to sign the summons.

If they sign the summons, then the signed paper must be filed with the court either by the server or you.

If they refuse to sign, the server must complete a proof of service form, have it notarized, and file it with the court.

Another option is to use certified mail. The defendant must sign the delivery service’s return receipt to acknowledge that they received the papers. The return receipt then gets delivered to the server, who fills out the proof of service form and signs it in front of a notary or court clerk. You or the server should attach the signed return receipt and file with the court.

Wait for the Other Parent to Respond

In a Michigan custody case, the defendant must respond to being served within 21 days (in person) or 28 days (by mail).

To respond, they must submit an answer stating whether they agree or disagree with each point in your complaint. They may even submit their own complaint.

If they miss the deadline to respond, the court will enter a default judgment without their input. So as long as your requests are in the best interest of your child, they will be granted.

If you are a defendant, you should respond even if you agree to the complaint. That way you can participate in the settlement process.

Michigan Custody Cases: The Last Steps

The next step, after the case is filed properly, is a meeting between both parents and their Friend of the Court case manager,

If there is a domestic violence issue, this meeting will be held separately.

At this meeting the settlement process will begin, unless there is a dispute. If there is a dispute, the FOC case manager will explain the litigation process and alternative dispute resolution options.

Don’t mishandle the custody process. Hire an experienced Downriver family law attorney that can help you, so your rights are protected. Contact The Mitten Law Firm today.