Divorce and separation are never easy, but the involvement of minor children can make the process even more destabilizing. The separation process, and negotiations for child custody, may uproot the children’s lives. Children rely on stability and routine for their development and emotional health. When a marriage ends, it may make a child feel like everything has changed.
They may need to move, change schools, and even get used to seeing less of a parent. It can also be traumatizing for children to see their parents struggle through such a stressful, overwhelming time. At Melissa Pearce & Associates, we understand from personal experience the difficulties children of divorce face, and a Novi child custody attorney from our team can help you and your family.
We take care to meet the social and emotional needs of children whose parents are separating. The divorce and child custody process can become adversarial, but as much as possible, we focus on protecting children involved. We are not only experienced Novi child custody attorneys but experienced counselors. We help clients communicate with their children regarding important decisions.
First and foremost, children must understand that both parents love them and they hold no fault for the divorce. An experienced Novi child custody attorney from our team will strive to work cooperatively with you and your children to reach a fair child custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the child.
Child custody refers to the legal and physical guardianship of a child. When a couple faces a divorce, or when parents were unmarried when the child was born, the parents have to face difficult questions about where the child will live, and who gets to make important legal decisions on the child’s behalf.
Physical custody determines which parent the child will reside with at which time and for how long. Joint physical custody means that the child splits the time between both parents’ residences, where one parent usually has primary custody and the other parent has custody according to a parenting time schedule. Sole custody means the child only lives with one parent. The non-custodial parent may or may not have visitation rights to see the child.
Legal custody refers to a parent’s ability to make decisions on behalf of the child. These decisions may relate to the health, education, welfare, religion, or other important elements of the child’s life. Legal custody may also be granted on a joint or sole basis. Joint legal custody means the parents must work together to agree on these important decisions. Sole legal custody places the responsibility of these decisions on one of the parents.
Before you begin your child custody case, it can be helpful to become familiar with the Friend of the Court office in your county, as well as the factors used by judges in Michigan to determine custody. Consider carefully the situation that will best help your children thrive and a parenting plan that will benefit all those involved. The decisions of judges and Friend of Court recommendations are based on the following factors, always considering the best interests of the child.
If the court determines that an established custodial environment with one parent currently exists, it will try to maintain that arrangement. Your custody case will be open once one parent files a family court case for custody. Most Michigan counties will require parents to complete a parenting class known as SMILE (for parents who are married) or COPE (when the parents are not married). These classes assist parents in helping their children adjust to the reality of divorce. The judge may issue temporary orders after the FOC case manager conducts a conciliation meeting. Both parents must be present for this conciliation meeting, and this meeting may determine what type of child custody and visitation arrangement you have while the custody case is pending.
If the parents are unable to agree on a temporary arrangement, a custody investigation may be undertaken by the FOC. In certain situations, the FOC may recommend temporary custody and visitation orders without this investigation. If you are unhappy with the temporary recommendations, you have 2-3 weeks to file an objection to trigger an objection hearing. Some counties will require mediation, although when domestic violence occurred in the past you will not be required to go through mediation with the parent that perpetrated the domestic violence.
Depending on your situation, there could be a custody investigation by a social worker or psychologist from the FOC. The goal is to determine the ability of each parent to properly meet the child’s needs. The investigator will make a recommendation to the court for final orders, and either parent can file an objection to those orders, so long as it is done within the required time period (14 or 21 days). If neither parent objects, final orders will be issued.
If either parent objects, the case will go to discovery, which can last from two to six months. During discovery, both parents are required to turn over financial documents, medical records, text messages, and more. Following discovery, a final custody hearing is held; both parents will have the opportunity to present evidence and question witnesses in front of a judge. During the process, you will likely be required to create a parenting schedule and a parenting plan. You could also be required to track your time with your children, detail interactions with the other parent, track expenses associated with the child, and more.
Judges are charged with making custody decisions that are in the best interests of the child. These “best interests” are those that serve the health, safety, and emotional status of the child. If a child has special needs, the judge will look at whether one or both parents are able to handle those special needs. Judges will look at the past and current relationship of each parent with the child, as well as how willing each parent is to support the child’s relationship with the other parent. If one parent consistently “bad-mouths” the other, this will give the other parent a definite advantage in the judge’s eyes.
The more cooperative parent usually also has an edge during a custody dispute. The judge will look at the history of caretaking associated with the child on a day-to-day basis for both parents. If either parent has a history of child abuse or neglect, the abusive parent’s contact with the child may be limited by the judge and could be supervised to protect the child from future physical or emotional harm.
Parents may negotiate and come to an agreement on the terms of a custody agreement. This is always ideal, as it avoids the expense and stress of a custody dispute. We work diligently with our clients to provide a calm, reliable voice to reach the most amicable arrangement.
Unfortunately, the process for custody agreements is not always a smooth one. Michigan law assumes that it is in the best interest of a child to have a relationship with both parents. Generally, if parents can agree on a parenting time schedule, the court will honor it unless it is clear that it is not in the best interests of the child. If parents cannot agree, the court may determine the parenting time schedule. In doing so, the court will consider various factors including:
Parenting time orders from a court may be quite general or more specific. In some instances, the order may include how parents will divide transportation, schedules for parenting time and who is permitted to be present, or other conditions the court finds suitable. When a child reaches a certain age and maturity level, the court may also consider the child’s preferences.
We also understand that circumstances change over time. A court order is rarely the final word on a child custody or parenting time agreement. We support our clients through post-judgment modifications to ensure the best interests of the children are always a priority.
While virtually every parent can benefit from having an experienced Novi child custody attorney, in some situations having an attorney is even more important, such as:
If you simply cannot imagine life without your children, then do not go through a child custody case on your own. Speak to attorney Melissa Pearce today to determine the best course of action for your vision of child custody.
Parents seeking custody of their children should have an experienced Novi child custody lawyer by their side before stepping into family court. We support our clients through every step of this difficult process. The right to parent your child is deeply personal and emotional, and it can be daunting to have a court involved in these important decisions. We fight for our clients’ interests, and the interests of their children, when facing child custody disputes. Contact us today to schedule your pre-engagement meeting.