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How important is a child's preferences in custody determinations?

In our last post, we examined the controversial actions of a Michigan judge who wanted to offer each party an opportunity to present their child custody proposals. In that case, the three minor children apparently favored legal and physical custody with their mother. But when the children refused to even meet with their father, the court sent them to juvenile detention.

A child’s preferences are an important consideration in legal and physical custody determinations. In fact, state law enumerates twelve child custody factors for the court’s inquiry, and the first addresses the parent-child relationship. Understandably, the court wants to learn about the quality and nature of any existing emotional ties in a family. However, there are other factors that the court will examine before making a final decision.

Assuming that a loving relationship is present, the court will next inquire about several practical areas of parenting. These issues, enumerated as the second and third child custody factors, address each parent’s logistical ability to provide for a child’s material, medical, educational and emotional needs. If a child has been raised in a particular religion, the court may also be interested whether a parent can continue that religious development.

The court also understands that too many changes might be disruptive to a child’s development. For that reason, the court will examine whether it may be beneficial for a child to continue in an existing living arrangement, allowing for continuity of the social, educational and other positive influences in the child’s life. Conversely, if a child has not been doing well in a particular environment, the court may be open to a change. As with the first factor, the child’s own preferences for where he or she wants to live will also be considered.

In our next post, we will conclude our examination of the 12 child custody factors enumerated under Michigan law.

Source: CBS Detroit, “Michigan’s Top Court Deciding Whether To Punish Judge Who Locked Kids Up In Custody Case,” Lisa Gorcyca, March 8, 2017

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