Author Bio: Kelsey A. Knudsen is a Grand Rapids child support attorney at Kraayeveld Law Offices. Her calm and steadfast guidance has helped her clients to reach excellent results with family law issues of all types.
Getting a divorce can be an emotional, stressful and complicated process, even when spouses mutually agree to go their separate ways. The stakes are higher when children are involved, raising a number of questions about how the kids will be cared for and the relationships with their parents maintained.
In courts around the country, many of these issues come down to one question: What is in the best interest of the child? The idea that the children’s well-being should be at the center of these decisions makes a lot of sense. But how a court answers the “best interest” question in a specific case can vary widely from state to state and based on the circumstances.
Knowledgeable child visitation lawyers have experience helping people resolve child custody, visitation and other issues after a divorce and they should be consulted to get a full understanding of the divorce process when children are involved. Below is how Michigan courts determine the “best interest” of children in those cases.
Child Custody and Visitation
The “best interest” standard is often used to resolve disputes over child custody and visitation.
There are generally two kinds of child custody:
● Physical custody: Where the child lives.
● Legal custody: Who makes decisions about the child’s upbringing, including schooling, medical care, and other matters.
Custody can be sole, meaning that the child lives with one parent all of the time and/or one parent has all decision-making rights, or shared jointly. Joint legal custody is very common, in our experience as child visitation lawyers. It requires divorced parents to commit to working together, despite any differences they may have.
Child visitation, or “parenting time,” refers to the time that each parent spends with his or her children after a divorce. That includes setting a weekly or monthly schedule for visitation and deciding whether visits with one parent should be supervised.
The “Best Interest” Standard
Michigan courts consider a number of factors to identify the custody and visitation arrangements that are in a child’s “best interest.” Some of those factors include:
● The love, affection and emotional ties between the individual parents and the child.
● The ability and willingness of each parent to give the child love, affection and guidance and to continue the child’s upbringing.
● The ability and willingness of each parent to ensure that the child is fed, clothed and receives proper medical attention.
● How long has the child lived in a stable environment? Is there a benefit in continuing that environment?
● The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
● The parents’ mental and physical health and their moral fitness. ● The child’s home, school and community record.
● The child’s preference, if the court decides that the child is old enough to reasonably express a preference.
● The willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parents.
Judges will often ask a number of questions to explore these factors, in addition to reviewing other evidence. A court may also appoint an independent expert to consider these factors and make a recommendation about custody or visitation.
While these questions can often pit one parent against another, the truth is that child custody and visitation does not have to be a “winner take all” battle. Some parents can and do resolve some or all of these issues efficiently by committing to a negotiated agreement.