I am currently going through a divorce and my wife is threatening to take away my children. She says a court will never award even 50-50 custody to a man.
How is child custody determined? What are my rights as a father to stay in my children's lives?
In Michigan, where I practice, child custody can be just about any arrangement the parties to a divorce agree to as long as the judge finds that the arrangement is in the best interests of the children. If parents cannot agree on custody and parenting time issues, the judge will make the decision.
The judge will first determine if there is an established custodial environment with either or both of the parents. An established custodial environment is a physical and a psychological environment between parent and child that develops over an appreciable time and significant duration.
If there is an established custodial environment, the court will only change it if the person who is asking for the change shows the judge with clear and convincing evidence that the change is in the best interests of the children.
For every decision that affects a child, the judge will look at the best interest factors. The best interest factors are list of 12 factors the judge looks at when deciding custody issues. The best interest 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.
(c) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, and care.
(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
(e) The permanence of the existing or proposed home.
(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 it.
(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.
(k) Domestic violence.
(l) Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant.
Although child custody laws and the best interest factors are written gender neutral, and meant to be applied to both parents equally, this does not always occur.
Many courts in Michigan are biased towards mothers. Fathers must assert their rights as a parent and show the court that they are just as capable of parenting their children as the mothers are.
The best advice I can give you is to spend as much time as you can with your children, and document your time. Come to court with a clear record of solid, quality parenting on your behalf.
The next best advice would be to hire an attorney who has experience advocating for men. It is important to get your custodial situation right the first time, because changing or fixing it later is much harder to do.
Although I practice law in Michigan, I cannot give you legal advice without thoroughly reviewing your case. Do not rely on this information as establishing an attorney-client relationship. Contact an attorney immediately for assistance. Cordell & Cordell does represent men in divorce in Michigan.
Jill A. Duffy is an Associate Attorney in the Troy, Mich., office of Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in the state of Michigan. Ms. Duffy received her BA in Psychology and Spanish and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Oakland University. She received her Juris Doctor from Michigan State University College of Law and graduated Magna Cum Laude.