Custody

There are many different kinds of custody arrangements.  For any arrangement, the court must decide who will make the major decisions about each child.  The court also must decide how much time the child will spend with each parent.

Parents are encouraged to reach their own agreements regarding custody.  When parents cannot agree, the judge will decide by analyzing the “best interests of the child” factors listed in the Michigan Child Custody Act.  Those factors will be analyzed at a hearing during which the parents may present evidence and arguments about each factor.

At either parent’s request, the court must consider ordering “joint custody,” an arrangement in which both parents participate in making the major decisions that affect their child.  If both parents agree to a joint custody arrangement, then the court must order it  unless the court determines that joint custody is not in the “best interests of the child.”  The court must state on the record its reasons for granting or denying the request for joint custody.  The court also may consider ordering joint custody even if neither parent has requested it.  A judge who is considering ordering joint custody must consider both the “best interests” factors and also whether the parents will be able to cooperate and usually agree on important decisions affecting their child’s welfare. 

If the court determines that a child’s interests are not adequately represented in the custody proceedings, the court may appoint a lawyer-guardian ad litem to represent the child in the court proceedings.  If the parties have the ability to pay, the court may require them to pay the lawyer-guardian ad litem’s fees.

Child Custody Factors 

  • The love, affection and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.  
  • The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.  
  • The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and continuation of the educating and raising of the child in its religion or creed, if any.  
  • The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs.  
  • The permanence as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.  
  • The moral fitness of the parties involved.  
  • The mental and physical health of the parties involved.  
  • The home, school, and community record of the child.  
  • The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be sufficient age to express preference.  
  • The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.  
  • Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence is directed against or witnessed by the child.  
  • Any other factors considered by the court to be relevant to particular child custody dispute

♦ Related Form: Motion Regarding Custody
♦ Related Form: Response to Motion Regarding Custody


Child Custody Questions

  • Can a custody order be changed if both parents agree?

Both parents may sign an agreement and present an order to the court.  If the judge approves and signs the consent order, it will then become the new custody order. 

  • Do I need an attorney to file a motion to change custody?

You may file the motion on your own, and the Friend of the Court will provide the forms and instructions that you will need.  However, the court will expect you to follow the same rules that an attorney must follow.  There are many complex issues in a custody case and most people prefer to have an attorney represent them.  The Friend of the Court cannot file a motion for you, nor can that office provide you with an attorney or tell you what to say in the motion.

  • Can the Friend of the Court assist parties in reaching an agreement regarding custody?

Yes; the Friend of the Court provides domestic relations mediation when there is a custody dispute and both parties agree to participate in mediation.

  • If a motion for custody has been filed, and the parents cannot reach an agreement on their own, what will the Friend of the Court do?

The Friend of the Court must offer mediation services to the parties.  If the judge directs, investigate the custody issue and file a written report and recommendation based upon the “best interests of the child” factors listed in the Michigan Child Custody Act.

  • May I receive a copy of the Friend of the Courts custody report and recommendation?

Upon request, and before the court acts on the recommendation, the Friend of the Court must give each party or that party’s attorney a copy of the report, including the custody recommendation and a summary of the information used in making the recommendation.  

  • What happens if I have custody according to the court’s order, but the other parent does not return the child to me as required by the order?

You may contact the Friend of the Court office and request that it enforce the order or contact your attorney.  If you believe the other parent will refuse to return the child, you may contact either the police or prosecuting attorney and ask to file a parental kidnapping charge.    

  •  How do I enforce the custody order if the other parent takes our child to another country?

When a child who is a U.S. citizen is illegally kept outside of this country, the U.S. State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues will work with the local U.S. embassy and the other country’s government to assist the child and the lawful custodial parent.  However, because child custody disputes are private legal disputes between the two parents, the State Department has no jurisdiction to force the other parent to obey a court order.  If the parents cannot reach an agreement, this kind of child custody dispute often must be resolved by judicial proceedings in the country where the child and the other parent are living.  The State Department will help the lawful custodial parent file the appropriate documents with the foreign authorities.  It also will monitor and report on the foreign judicial or administrative proceedings.   

  •  How do I contact the Office of Children’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State?

You can write to: Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues, SA-29, 2201 C Street, NW; U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC 20520-2818.  You also may call 1-888-407-4747 or fax 202-736-9080.

  • Is the Friend of the Court allowed to investigate child abuse or neglect?

No, the Friend of the Court does not have that authority.  Abuse or neglect should be reported (in the county where the custodial parent and children live) to the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Child Protective Services Division.    

A judge will consider allegations of abuse or neglect when making a decision on custody or parenting time.  The Friend of the Court office has a duty, when ordered by the court, to conduct custody or parenting time investigation.  Concerns about abuse or neglect should be disclosed to the Friend of the Court during this type of investigation.  However, both the judge and the Friend of the Court will rely on Child Protective Services to investigate and evaluate the abuse or neglect allegations.

  • May my child enroll in my local school, even though the child lives in another school district with the other parent most of the time?

When the parents live in different school districts, Michigan law allows a child to attend a school in either district, regardless of which parent has custody.  When a child regularly resides in two school districts, which often happens when the parents have true joint custody, the child may attend school in either or both districts.