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Top Nine Questions About Child Custody in 2009

9. Is child custody an issue in most divorces where there are minor children? In most divorces, custody issues are settled very easily. It is only a small percentage where custody becomes an issue.

8. Is there an age where a child can decide who he or she wants to live with? There is no automatic age in Michigan. Under the laws, a child can have input. The older a child is, the more input that child has. Many courts have held that they are not going to let a child make the final decision. So to speak, the “tail is not going to be allowed to wag the dog”.

7. Is there a presumption favoring joint physical custody? There is no automatic presumption favoring joint physical custody. Joint physical custody does not have to be 50/50. There are many arrangements where there is a joint or shared custodial relationship where one parent might have the bulk of the time during the school year, while the other parent has the bulk of the time during summer and holidays. The key is to have an arrangement that works and is consistent with the best interests of your child or children.

6. Once child custody has been set, can it be changed a year or two later? Child custody is always modifiable, but once it is set, it is much harder to change. The standard for setting custody is what is called by a preponderance of the evidence, which means just a slight shifting favoring one parent over the other. Once custody has been established, and there is an established custodial environment with one parent, the other parent must show by clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interests of the minor child for a change of custody. This is a much higher standard than the standard for setting custody originally.

5. What are some reasons for changing custody? Some of the reasons include an abusive situation in one home. Neglect can be a reason, as well as problems with alcohol or drugs, or involvement with someone of the opposite sex where the children are being exposed to inappropriate behavior. Inappropriate access to the internet can be another factor. These are issues that you should discuss with an attorney, and the situations differ from case to case.

4. If custody becomes an issue after a divorce becomes final, how long does it normally take? A custody dispute can last for several months, or in some very complicated cases, as long as a year or more. There are some cases where people try to take each other back to court year after year because they cannot give up the fight, and are trying to hurt each other, often for psychological reasons. These are the worst situations. I tell my clients that you are putting your children in the middle, and the biggest losers in any custody dispute are your children. 

3. How expensive is a child custody case? Child custody cases can be very, very expensive, and often are much more expensive than a divorce. It is important to consult with an attorney who specializes in family law, including child custody, to determine, 1. whether or not you have a case; 2. what the cost will be. An attorney will give you a range, because it is impossible to determine exactly what the cost will be, but it can run anywhere from several thousands of dollars to a multiple of that number.

2. Should I talk to my child or children before deciding whether or not to seek a change of custody? This depends upon the age of the child, and often it is best not to put the children in the middle or talk to them about this. It is a very serious proceeding, and often very difficult and complicated. I would suggest if custody and the possibility of a change is an issue, that you should take your children into counseling and perhaps a counselor working with the children, can guide you in that matter, bearing in mind that if there is counseling, the other parent must be advised of it. 

1. Is sexual abuse a reason for change of custody? Allegations of sexual abuse, if they are true, is a very strong and urgent reason for a change of custody. Bear in mind that many cases, especially high conflict divorces, or high conflict situations after a divorce where custody and parenting time are issues, will involve allegations of sexual abuse, and there are many situations where they are false. This is a very treacherous area, and one, where you may have child protective services and even criminal proceedings involved. If there are false statements of sexual abuse, I have had situations where people who have made these allegations, have been charged with perjury and even gone to jail. This is an area that you should really talk to an attorney about and be very careful about, because for every allegation of sexual abuse, there are often cases where they have been fabricated and all that is happening is that the children are being put in the middle and often damaged. This is another area where you must consult with a very good family law attorney.