Are you wondering how old a child has to be to have a say in custody arrangements in Michigan? At first sight, this question may seem to have a straightforward answer. However, it’s not always so clear-cut. The key lies in exactly what is meant by the phrase “has a say.”
First of all, Michigan allows children to unilaterally decide which parent they want to live with once they are 18. At that point, of course, they are an adult. But that doesn’t cover the full range of what it means to actually have a say. As the judge strives to decide what’s in the best interest of the child, most of the time, they will actually speak to children that are younger, and, depending on the circumstances, the children may well have a say as to which parent they get to live with. The older the better is the theme here. A court will not let a teenager decide which parent to live with, but the reasons for that child’s concerns can be valid and the court will consider those reasons.
What Does it Mean to Have a Say?
Waiting until one is 18 years old can be a very long time when it comes to deciding which parent a child can live with. There are a number of reasons why a child may want to live with one parent rather than the other.
The factors in the child’s decision can be simple things, such as what their rooms are like or what food is served in each household. The reason for the preference may also lie in how far from school or how far from the child’s friends each parent lives.
It could also have to do with each parent’s parenting style, their flexibility or strictness, and their conflict resolution style, which could range from calm reasoning to screaming matches or even spanking. All these could influence a judge’s decision to take the child’s preferences into consideration.
However, it’s not always easy for the child to have a say. For the most part, this will happen only during the original child custody hearing or when a parent requests a change to the parenting time order and a judge has to make a decision. In each situation, the judge has to determine, among other things, what is in the best interest of the child.
And to make that determination, the judge may speak to the child to get their input and preferences. This does not happen very often, though. That’s because there are specific conditions required for parenting time orders to be changed. Also, a court interviewing a child regarding their preferences when deciding a change of custody or parenting time is a last resort, and not typically something a judge will do.
Real and significant changes in circumstances or other types of proper cause must be presented for such applications to even be considered, and you should have an experienced child custody attorney to help you with your case. You will not want to file such a request with the court until you know you have a good chance of winning your case in court.
A child’s wish to change custody does not qualify as proper cause to revise the custodial arrangements. Instead, qualifying circumstances may include situations where a parent is absent or fails to provide for the child or where a child is neglected or abused. Alcohol or drug abuse by a parent may also qualify.
What Is in the Best Interest of the Child?
The key to a judge’s decision lies in what would be in the best interest of the child, which is determined by the “best interest of the child” factors. This happens after establishing that there is proper cause for making changes to the custody arrangements or the parenting plan. The court also needs to look at whether there is an established custodial environment already in place, which is a routine in place of when each parent has the child.
There are 12 factors that are part of the evaluation of what is in the best interest of the child. These 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 or creed, if any.
(c) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs.
(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
(e) The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
(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 preference.
(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 or the child and the parents. A court may not consider negatively for the purposes of this factor any reasonable action taken by a parent to protect a child or that parent from sexual assault or domestic violence by the child’s other parent.
(k) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.
(l) Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.
As you can see, these factors include positive categories, such as which parent has a closer and more affectionate relationship with the child.
The factors also include which parent is more capable of providing the child with necessities, including food, clothing, as well as medical care, which includes taking them to visit the doctor. Moreover, a judge takes into consideration which parent takes care of the child most of the time and takes them to school, extracurricular activities, religious services, and more.
These factors include negative factors as well, such as mental or physical health challenges that make it difficult to care for the child. They also include whether either parent has a history of physical, verbal, or sexual abuse or whether the child has been abused.
The factors also include who encourages the child to go to school and helps them with homework, who goes to school activities and parent/teacher conferences, who makes sure the child sees their friends regularly, and who provides guidance with their chores. To help your chances to get custody of your child, you need an experienced divorce or custody lawyer.
The Reasonable Preference of the Child
The ninth point of the twelve deals explicitly with the child’s preferences. During a court case, the judge often speaks with the child in a private meeting, away from lawyers, parents, and siblings, to find out what the child’s preferences are. In order for the judge to take those preferences seriously into consideration, though, he or she must consider the child to be mature enough to express their preferences in an informed fashion.
Most of the time, this is considered to be the case with children between 9 and 17, but sometimes children as young as 6 can be mature enough and are interviewed by the judge. The judge then needs to determine if the child’s preferences are really in their best interest or if the child simply wants to live with the parent who is more lenient and whose rules are less strict.
While it depends on the judge to what degree a child’s preferences are taken into consideration, the child’s maturity and reasoning will definitely make a difference. This is especially true since the judge’s conversation with the child is in private and will be kept confidential, which means that the child will be shielded from undue influence and pressure.
As an alternative, the investigation can also be conducted by a branch of the family court called Friend of the Court, who would also interview the child unless the child is too young to make a reasonable decision. They will then prepare a report for the judge.
What should you do if you find yourself fighting to get or keep custody of your child? You should definitely have a skilled child custody attorney to help you with your case. Call or email us for a free case evaluation. We’ll be happy to talk with you.