What is custody?
Custody is the legal responsibility for the care and control of your child under 18 years of age. The court may give custody of your child to one or both parents. There are two types of custody: legal and physical.
Legal custody is the right to make major decisions about your child. Some types of decisions included in the right of legal custody are: where your child goes to school, whether your child gets surgery, and what kind of religious training your child receives.
Physical custody refers to who your child lives with on a day-to-day basis. It is the physical care and supervision of your child.1
1 See the Michigan Custody Guideline
What custody options are there?
Even though Michigan statutes do not define sole custody, this usually means one of the parents is in charge of both the physical and legal custody of the child. Joint custody means:
- your child will alternate his/her residence between both parents, for specific periods of time; and
- both parents will share the right to make important decisions that affect the welfare of your child.1
If joint custody is not awarded because the judge believes it would not be in the best interest of the child, the judge can decide between any of the following or a combination of them:
- sole legal custody;
- sole physical custody;
- joint legal custody;
- joint physical custody; and/or2
- parenting time (visitation).3
- 1 MCL § 722.26a(7)
2 See the Michigan Custody Guideline
3 MCL § 722.27a
What is parenting time?
Parenting time refers to the time your child spends with the non-custodial parent. This is also commonly known as visitation. If the parents reach an agreement about parenting time, then the judge will accept this agreement unless the judge believes it’s not in the best interest of the child.1 When your child has parenting time with the other parent, that parent will decide routine matters related to the child, such as the child’s bedtime, who the child sees, what the child eats, etc.2
Michigan law assumes that the best interest of the child is to have a strong relationship with both of his/her parents.3 So, parenting time will likely be distributed in a way that promotes a strong bond between the child and both parents. However, the judge will not presume it’s best for your child to spend time with both parents if you can show by clear and convincing evidence that it would put your child’s physical, mental, or emotional health in danger.4 You can see more information about this on our question How will a judge make a decision about parenting time?
1 MCL § 722.27a(2)
2 MCL § 722.27a(11)
3 MCL § 722.27a(1)
4 MCL § 722.27a(3)
What is a parenting coordinator?
A parenting coordinator is a person, appointed by the judge, to help resolve disputes between the parents and carry out parenting time orders. The types of disputes that the parenting coordinator can work with will be included in the order provided by the judge.1 Some of the disputes the parenting coordinator could work with include the child’s drop-off and pick-up; vacation and holiday schedule and implementation; health care management; daily routines; and any other issues presented jointly by the parents.2 The parenting coordinator will only be appointed if both parents and the coordinator agree on the scope of his/her work.
If the parents agree to a parenting coordinator, the judge will consider any history of abuse and include protections for the victim.3 Among other things, the order will include the time frame when the parenting coordinator will be working with the case, the costs associated with the service, and how those costs will be divided between the parents.4
1 MCL § 722.27c(1)
2 MCL § 722.27c(3)(e)
3 MCL § 722.27c(2)
4 MCL § 722.27c(3)(c), (3)(d)
What is mediation?
Mediation is a process by which parents attempt to reach an agreement relating to custody and visitation of their child with the help of a neutral third party, known as a mediator. There are four types of mediation in Michigan.1 The Michigan Custody Guideline includes a description of each one, including which type of mediation:
- can be ordered by the judge or requested by the parents;
- has to be paid by the parents and which one is free;2
- allows for the shared information to be kept confidential;
- allows the parents to request reports from the mediator at the end of a mediation where no agreement is reached.1
It’s important to know that the mediator often guides the discussion process between the parents and tries to come to a compromise that both parents are happy with. However, the mediator cannot force you to agree to something that you don’t want.
What is a lawyer-guardian ad litem?
Michigan law allows the judge to appoint a lawyer-guardian ad litem for your child if s/he believes the child’s best interests are not being appropriately represented in the custody case.1 This lawyer-guardian ad litem would represent your child during the court case and may file a written report and recommendations for the judge. This report will not be admitted into evidence, which means the judge cannot use it to inform his/her custody decision, unless all parties agree to it being admitted. However, even if it’s not admitted into evidence, the parents may use the report to try to reach an agreement.2 The parents may need to pay part or all of the costs and fees related to the work of the lawyer-guardian ad litem.3
1 MCL § 722.24(2)
2 MCL § 722.24(3)
3 MCL § 722.24(4)