Michigan Modification of Child Custody
Whenever two people are getting divorced, and minor children are involved, I encourage my client to retain custody of the children as modifying a custody order later on can be difficult. There is no doubt that one should contact an attorney immediately if you are attempting to modify a child custody arrangement.
Required Standard to Modify Custody
Attempting to change an already existing child custody order requires a three-step analysis.
• Whether there is “proper cause” or a “change in circumstances” that justifies modifying the custody arrangement.
• Whether there is an “established custodial environment.”
• Whether modifying the custody order is in the best interests of the child.
Proper Cause and Change of Circumstances to Modify Child Custody
The first factor required to petition a court for a child custody modification, whether there is proper cause of a change in circumstances, is the reason that I tell a client to try to keep custody of his/her child at the time of a divorce. Not just any little proper cause or change in circumstances will do; a substantial change that will impact the minor child is required. For example, if a parent is incarcerated for a drug offense, or if the child is being abused, that may be enough to satisfy this first step. It is probably not enough where a parent runs into financial problems, or where the child acts out and gets in trouble at school (unless it is a continuing issue).
An Established Custodial Environment
Determining whether an established custodial environment exists is analyzed because it sets the burden of proof required in determining whether a change is in a child’s best interests. If there is an established custodial environment, a parent must show that it’s in the child’s best interests by clear and convincing evidence. If there is no established custodial environment, a parent must show that it’s in the child’s best interests by a preponderance of the evidence—a far less difficult standard to prove when compared to clear and convincing. An established custodial environment exists where:
“The custodial environment of a child is established if over an appreciable time the child naturally looks to the custodian in that environment for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort. The age of the child, the physical environment, and the inclination of the custodian and the child as to permanency of the relationship shall also be considered.”
So, you may be asking yourself, “What does this all mean?” The answer is that it is very easy to establish a custodial environment once one parent has possession of the child. Once that possession has been established, changing a custody order becomes infinitely more difficult.
Best Interests of the Child Factors
Michigan’s Child Custody Act establishes twelve factors for determining whether something is in the child’s best interests. The factors are designed to consider the totality of every situation as opposed to focusing in on just a couple of relevant points such a party’s financial ability, or where a child prefers to live. Although these factors may be scored, not all judges will give each factor the same weight.
Get a Child Custody Attorney
If you are attempting to modify an already existing child custody order, an attorney is necessary. Going through this process without an attorney is likely to result in denial of your petition. Contact our office today at 586-268-2400.