When two people with children in common split up, they are thrown into a situation where they have to think about co-parenting with an individual that they no longer want to be around. This can be… challenging to say the least. In a perfect world, parents can learn to communicate and work together to decide what is best for their children, however, this isn’t always possible.
Anybody that has ever been through a divorce with minor children, or, a custody/parenting time preceding in a Michigan court has probably heard the court and/or attorneys talk about “the best interests of the child” factors. So what exactly are they talking about when they say “the best interests of the child,” because honestly, who knows what is in your child’s best interests better than you?
In a nutshell, the legislature has come up with twelve different factors that courts are asked to weigh when determining matters such as custody and parenting time. Specifically, the factors are:
(a) The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
(b) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any.
(c) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical case or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other marital needs.
(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
(e) The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
(f) The moral fitness of the parties involved.
(g) The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.
(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
(j) 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.
(k) Domestic violence regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.
(l) Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.
No one factor is meant to be determinative and the courts are required to weigh all factors. Obviously, a lot of these factors require the court to make subjective determinations to try and determine which factors weight in favor of what parent and many of these factors often end up weighing equally between the parents.
Anytime you ask a court to make a determination about your children you are taking a risk. If you do not make a strong enough case as to why a custody/parenting time arrangement should or should not be changed, you may end up living with consequences that could be detrimental to you and to your children. Therefore, whenever decisions about your children can be worked out with the other parent, usually through compromise, it should be done.
However, when no compromise can be reached, you have to be prepared to make your best case. You will need to show enough supporting evidence, relevant to the “best interests of the child” factors, to convince a judge to side with you over the other parent.
Whenever it becomes necessary to ask a court to resolve a dispute regarding your children, the best thing that you can do to achieve the outcome you desire is to hire an experienced family law attorney.