Long gone are the days where the mother nearly always get primary custody of children after a divorce. Joint custody is more common than ever, and it's generally considered to be in the best interests of children to have both parents in their lives.
A proposed law is making its way through the Michigan state legislature that would require judges to award joint custody to parents unless there's a history of domestic violence.
What Is in the Bill?
House Bill 4691, which passed the House Judiciary Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full House, would require judges to give both parents legal custody and split parenting time equally. It would also mandate that the parents live no more than 80 miles apart. Children who are 16 and older can weigh in on the decision, and their preference is to be a significant consideration.
Interestingly, the committee vote was strictly partisan. Republican committee members, who are in the majority, supported it and Democrats voted against it.
Those in the legal community and advocacy groups have weighed in on both sides of the debate. A spokeswoman for the Michigan Poverty Law program says the proposed legislation "presumes that one form of custody is best for all families and that's equal time [but] that's not necessarily true."
She notes that some people who are required to share custody equally with a co-parent may have a difficult time finding a job that allows them to do that. She also points out that moving back and forth between parents' homes isn't always the optimal situation for many kids because "they don't feel they have their own home."
However, the lawmaker sponsoring the bill argues that in too many situations, "custody arrangements are not determined by the kind of parent that you are, but the judge in the county." Michigan's National Parents Organization also supports it.
Not surprisingly, judges have weighed in against the bill, which would limit their authority to decide what's in a child's best interests. Two judges who provided written testimony to the committee noted that such legislation would put the parents' interests first. They stated, "This presumption (of shared custody) disregards which parent provides day-to-day support, maintenance and nurturing of the child and instead substitutes the mere presence of a parent."
If you and your spouse cannot arrive at a custody agreement on your own and the matter is put in the hands of a judge, it's essential to know the relevant laws in your state -- many of which are changing. Your family law attorney can provide guidance and help you work toward a resolution that you believe is best for your family.
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