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If you're going through a divorce, or in the midst of a custody battle, it's important to understand what the custody terms means in Michigan. In Michigan, the courts recognize two types of custody: physical and legal.

Physical custody determines where the children will live and their living arrangements. Custody can be sole or joint. Sole physical custody means physical custody is given to only one parent. The child will primarily reside with that parent, and that parent provides most of the day to day care for the child. Joint physical custody means the parents share custody.

Legal custody determines who will make important decisions for the children. If sole legal custody is awarded, only one parent has the authority to make these decisions. However, if joint legal custody is awarded, both parties will be involved in making important legal decisions for the child such as where they go to school, what religion they are, if and what extra-curricular activities the child will participate in, and major medical decisions. Joint legal does not depend on the amount of time that the child spends with each parent. No matter what the physical custody is, parents can share joint legal custody of the child.

Examples of what joint legal custody is as follows:

  1. Each party will foster, encourage and support the relationship between the minor child and the other parent.
  2. The parties will consult together concerning major decisions involving the health, education, religion and welfare of the minor child. Neither party shall enroll the child in a school without agreement of the other or an order of the court.
  3. The parties will both use their best efforts to ensure consistency in matters affecting the upbringing of the minor child and to work together to promote the best interests of the minor child.
  4. Each parent will promptly advise the other of any illness, emergency, or other significant events concerning the minor child (including school or health problems) of which the parent becomes aware.
  5. Each parent will be entitled to complete access to the minor child’s school, medical, psychological, religious and other records.
  6. The parties shall each be entitled to be informed of all parent/teacher conferences and all other activities (including sports) and/or school programs in which the child are involved and parents are invited to attend.
  7. The parties shall each be entitled to copies of the minor child’s report cards, medical records and current school photographs.
  8. Each party shall keep the other party generally informed of his or her whereabouts in the event of an emergency, including their present address, personal telephone number, and any other emergency contact number.
  9. Each party shall decide all routine matters concerning the minor child during such time that he or she has physical custody of or parenting time with the minor child. The parties will each use their best efforts to provide consistency for the child in connection with such routine matters.
  10. Each party shall have the right to make routine emergency decisions regarding the minor child when the child are with him or her.

DETERMINING THE CHILD'S BEST INTEREST: It's always best when parents can agree on custody. However, when parents are unable to agree on custody, then the court must decide on custody and parenting time by reviewing the "best interest factors of the child".

This legal test requires the court to consider these 12 factors:

  1. The love, affection and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
  5. The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
  6. The moral fitness of the parties involved.
  7. The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
  8. The home, school, and community record of the child.
  9. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express a preference.
  10. 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.
  11. Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.
  12. Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child. Schmitt Law, PLLC knows that your first priority is your children, and will find creative solutions that fits your specific situation.

Schmitt Law, PLLC can advise and represent parents throughout the entire custody process, offering skilled advocacy for parents, while being empathetic to the challenges involved in determining child custody. Laurie Schmitt of Schmitt Law, PLLC is a West Michigan family law attorney specializing in collaborative divorce as well as separation, divorce, child custody and support, paternity, and other family law litigation. She is licensed by Michigan State Bar and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, and has extensive advanced training in divorce mediation and collaborative divorce. Contact Laurie at (616) 608-4634 for a confidential consultation.