Understanding Legal & Physical Custody in Michigan

There are numerous ways that the court can award custody in Michigan. Understanding the different types of custody will help clarify your arrangement. If you have yet to go to court, this article will explain some of the more common custody arrangements in Michigan.

Child Custody in Michigan

Michigan determines custody on “the best interests of the child.” This is a broad definition, and there are legal guidelines for judges to follow in determining what is in the child’s best interests. Often, as long as the judge agrees, parents can create an arrangement themselves, and a judge will sign off on it.

Occasionally a contentious child custody case will require the court to determine the parameters of the custody arrangement. Michigan courts recognize legal custody and physical custody. Within both types of custody, a judge can also order joint custody or sole custody. We’ll explain these below and discuss possible scenarios for each.

Michigan Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to the decision making for the child. If a parent has legal custody, then that parent is responsible to make decisions for their child relating to matters such as school enrollment, medical care, participation in extracurricular activities, and even religious upbringing. Bear in mind that there is not a LEGAL definition of sole custody in Michigan. Sole custody occurs when one parent is granted primary physical and legal custody over a child.

Joint legal custody means that both parents are involved in the decision making process for important issues concerning their child, Often, if an issue is contentious, the court may decide that primary legal custody be granted to one parent or the other. This can happen if, for example, both parents have strong religious convictions, but members of different faiths.

There are numerous factors that the court takes into consideration when it comes to determining legal custody. You can see a list here. 

Physical Custody in Michigan

Physical custody in Michigan refers to where the child lives. A parent can be granted primary custody if the judge deems it in the best interests of the child. Factors that may be considered include school enrollment, community and familial ties, and more. While one parent may have primary custody, the other parent may be allowed “parenting time”.

Joint custody would allow both parents to have custody of the child, with a specific schedule kept. For example, one parent may have the child throughout the school year, while the other has the child during the summer months. There can also be arrangements made that alternate holidays, birthdays, and other important milestones.

If either parent requests joint custody, the court must consider it. If both parents agree to joint custody, then the judge must order it unless joint custody is determined to not be in the best interests of the child. The reasoning for this decision must be made on the record.

It is important to note that while there may be a joint custody arrangement, important decisions may still be in the purview of one parent if joint legal custody is not ordered. Joint legal custody and joint physical custody can be ordered separately or together.

Are you preparing for a child custody hearing, or are you seeking to have your current arrangement amended? Contact The Mitten Law Firm today for a free, confidential consultation.