Should Michigan Reform Its Custody Laws?

Custody can be a very difficult subject for divorcing couples. Is Michigan custody law in need of updating?


There is currently legislation underway in Michigan to change the existing custody laws. What’s that you say? Change Michigan’s custody laws? Well, isn’t that a good thing? After all, the Michigan Child Custody Act of 1970 is decades old. Surely it could use a revamp, right? Well, that depends on who you ask…


According to numerous media sources, the goal of the pending legislation is to alter the child custody laws to require judges to always presume that joint custody will be ordered in every divorce case. This has already met with some resistance, as opponents claim that equal parenting time isn’t always right for every family. In addition, it may not always be in the interest of the child. Although that isn’t what State Rep. Jim Runestad, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, believes.


Runestad is behind this legislation, which he believes is long overdue. When testifying before the The House Committee on Families, Children, and Seniors in September of 2016, Runestad explained his stance this way. “Michigan courts are routinely stripping equally good parents of time with their children because they were not deemed to be the ‘best’ parent of the two. It’s time to end the parent versus parent competition by putting children first with a presumption of shared custody and substantially equal time for both parents.”


Under current state law, when parents aren’t able to come to some kind of agreement about how to divide custody, a Family Court Judge makes the decision for them. In order to make the decision considered to be in the best interest of the child, the Judge uses 12 predetermined factors. These factors include things like the existing emotional ties between the parents and the child, and the parent’s abilities to meet the child’s needs.


If Runestand’s legislation goes through, the court would be required to order joint custody in any parenting time dispute, unless one parent is determined to be unfit. One of the benefits of this legislation, Runestad claims, is that it will eliminate situations where parent/child relationships are harmed by parental alienation, also known as toxic parenting.


Not everyone agrees with this perspective, though. Opponents of the bill say that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to custody would rob families with unique parenting schedules that work best for them. Concern has also been raised over the fact that some parents may use this ruling in order to reduce their child support payments, when they simply have no interest in actually parenting their children.


Another factor that has been raised is the issue of domestic violence. Required shared parenting is said to inadvertently benefit those who abuse their spouses and children. Runestad has argued against this being a concern. The legislation, he says, accounts for situations that include domestic violence and other forms of abuse.


Other exceptions in the legislation include cases where the distance between the parents is too great to require equal parenting time, or where one parent’s work requires them to travel extensively.


Child custody is a complex matter. There are many factors that influence a child custody agreement, and parents have to work hard with their attorneys to create parenting time schedules that reflect the needs of both the children and the parents. If you are considering a divorce, but are unsure about how to handle the issue of child custody, call The Kronzek Firm at 517 866 1000. We have decades of experience handling Michigan custody cases. We can help you too.