Child Custody
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Work With Our Experienced Child Custody Lawyers in Grand Rapids


Child custody and visitation are emotional issues for most parents. When both parents want custody of the children, the issues of custody can become a very fierce battle during the divorce. Thankfully, custody laws in the state of Michigan advocate and uphold the best interests of the child and the law creates a presumption that each parent have an opportunity to bond and develop a strong and healthy relationship with the child. The primary concern for most courts when a petition is initially filed is to maintain the stability of the child’s environment and avoid unjustifiable and disruptive custody changes while also providing both parents with as much time with the children as possible. Our experienced custody attorneys at Gordon & Hess, PLC. can help you through the custody process in the state of Michigan. Call us today at 616-369-7452 to discuss your options.

Understanding The Differences Between Legal And Physical Custody

There are two forms of child custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to decision-making powers for the children. Parents who share joint legal custody are involved in the day-to-day responsibilities for the children. Both parents have equal say in their child’s life events such as which school the child goes to, which religion and upbringing as well as healthcare matters including doctors and dentists. physical custody refers to the physical presence of the children and where the children will primarily reside on a daily basis.

If one parent is awarded the primary physical custody or sole physical custody of the children by a court then this would mean that the parent is the primary custodian and the children would primarily reside with that parent while the other parents would typically receive reasonable parenting time or visitation with the children. An award of joint physical custody is possible and generally means each parent has “significant periods” of physical custody with the children. However, this does not necessarily mean the child’s time must be evenly (50/50) divided between each parent. It is very possible and most likely that one parent may have slightly more physical time with the children than the other while the parties are still considered to have joint physical custody under the eyes of the law.

What Is Sole Legal Custody?

In some circumstances both parents may not be present or actively involved in their child’s life or possibly one parent failed to answer the initial custody or support case when it was originally filed. When this is the case one parent can be awarded sole legal and physical custody by the court. When a parent is granted sole legal and physical custody, the child primarily resides with one parent and that parent makes all the legal decisions without the need to consult or confirm anything with the other parent.

The non-custodial parent literally has no legal rights under the law and cannot even obtain basic information about their child on request. The non-custodial parent still may have basic visitation rights and be ordered to pay child support but still have no legal rights. This also presents a very serious problem for the non-custodial parent as the court is required to grant any requests from the custodial parents to move from the state of Michigan without a formal hearing and the non-custodial parent does not necessarily have any right to stop such a move without first petitioning the court for joint legal custody.

If parents can agree on who shall have custody, the Judge must accept the parents mutual decision unless the Court makes a finding on the record by “clear and convincing” evidence that the custodial arrangement is not in the child’s best interest. However, if a couple cannot agree on the legal and physical custody of the children, the Court is authorized and empowered by law to make a binding decision and issue a judgment. When determining child custody, the court must consider the best interests of the child. The court does so by applying the “best interest factors” to your set of circumstances.

What Are The 12 “Best Interest” Factors?

These are defined under Michigan law as the following 12 factors:

  • Emotional ties including the love, affection existing between the children and parents
  • Whether the parents are able and willing to continue giving the child love, affection, guidance, and providing education and religious or spiritual guidance
  • Whether parents or caregivers are capable of providing the child with the basic necessities and other material needs such as food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care
  • How long the family has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and whether they want to continue doing so
  • The permanence of existing or the proposed custodial home or homes
  • The parents’ moral fitness
  • The parents’ mental and physical health
  • The child’s home, school, and community record
  • If the court determines the child is the right age to express a preference, what the child’s reasonable preference is
  • How willing and able each parent is to facilitating and encouraging a consistent, close relationship
  • Whether domestic violence is a factor in the home in any way
  • Other factors the court may deem relevant

Custody cases in Michigan are very difficult from an emotional standpoint and the laws are not easily understood without an experienced professional to assist you. It is very important that you retain an experienced professional that understands the custody laws in Michigan and can aggressively and effectively advocate on your behalf to protect your rights including the right to have a loving and nurturing relationship with your children.

Call Us At 616-369-7452 To Speak With One Of Our Custody Lawyers

At Gordon & Hess, PLC, in child custody lawyer Grand Rapids, are caring and compassionate without compromising our duty to aggressively protect your rights. We are highly experienced and have handled divorce, child custody and support cases throughout West Michigan. Let our family and divorce attorney team help you. Email us or call and schedule a free consultation to meet face-to-face to discuss your family law matter. We can help you chart the best course of action and start develop a winning game plan — including incorporating mediation options — to resolve your disputes from the start.