Life is full of changes and so it is no surprise that a custody agreement made in the past could need to be changed. However, going about getting a custody modification in Michigan is not as straightforward of a process as you might have assumed it to be.
In order to learn how to win your custody modification case, we will first be looking at the process of getting a custody modification case reviewed by a court. You will first need to look at the facts and circumstances and see if you have valid reasons under Michigan law to win a request for change of custody.
How is Custody Modified in Michigan?
In order to modify a custody agreement in Michigan, you need to file a motion and get a hearing in front of a judge. Even when both parents agree to the modification you are still required to file a motion and attend a court hearing.
Regardless of whether both parents agree, however, you will need to file a motion to ask the judge to change the custody order. When you file the motion you are the moving party and the other parent is the respondent. It will cost a fee to file the motion, though there are options available for those that can’t afford to pay it outright. You will receive a hearing date after filing the motion. What you write in your motion, or request, is very important.
At the hearing, both parties will present their arguments for why the custody agreement should or should not be modified. The judge will consider the arguments and summary of the evidence presented in order to determine, as a preliminary basis, whether the agreement should be modified. This first hearing, called a motion hearing, is very perfunctory, so it is short and to the point, and a judge or referee is just trying to determine if you have enough evidence to meet the very difficult threshold of a basis for change of custody. We’ll look at what is being considered here.
When Can Custody be Modified?
To win a motion for change of custody, you must successfully prove that there has been a change of circumstances or there is proper cause. These are two different reasons but can be interrelated. What can be proper cause can also be a change of circumstances. What would be considered proper cause should be relevant to at least one of the twelve statutory best interest of the child factors.
A “proper cause” can be based on the 12 best interest of the child factors. You can read more about these here. These are factors such as “The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child” and “The mental and physical health of the parties involved” or “The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes,” to name a few of them.
These best interest of the child factors will be reviewed if you first show a proper cause for reviewing custody in the first place. A proper cause can be related to elements of the child’s home life that will have a significant effect on the child’s mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. Each of the twelve best interest factors will lead to a range of questions that you can use as a starting point for arguing that there is a proper cause for a change of custody.
Let’s look at some examples where a custody modification could be accepted:
- A parent has gone missing from the home
- A parent has begun to abuse drugs or alcohol
- A parent’s non-chemical addiction has started to affect the child, such as excessive gambling or sexual behaviors
- A parent is regularly failing to provide for the child
- A parent is regularly failing to properly care for the child
- A parent has abused the child
- A parent has neglected the child
These are all cases where a modification would likely be accepted, though the circumstances you’re arguing must be corroborated by your evidence. In short, you need some very significant changes in the child’s environment to request that a court review custody.
Examples where a custody modification is unlikely to occur are:
- The child has a desire to change custody with no real reason
- The child’s needs change and grow normally as they get older
- A parent has financial problems that could be solved by an increase in the amount of child support
- A parent suspects the other of neglecting the child but fails to provide proof
- A parent wants to get back at the other by taking custody of the child away
How Do I Win a Custody Modification Case?
The way to win a change of custody case is to prove to the judge that their circumstances have significantly, and in an extreme way, changed. You must overcome a presumption in favor of the established custodial environment, assuming there is one. This means that if the current custody and parenting time arrangement and routine that the child is following has been in place over a significant amount of time, the court is required to continue this schedule unless there is a significant change presented as a reason to change the custody arrangement. This requires that you present them with evidence that demonstrates these changes.
But one important thing to keep in mind is that the evidence has to be new. Your lawyer can only argue new facts or changes that have occurred since the custody order was put into place. Evidence that was already considered during the previous entry of the custody order will not be considered. So, for example, a parents past drug use, that was prior to the current custody order, will not be a reason to review custody now. The key is proving that a recent change has occurred and so previously viewed evidence doesn’t help with this.
In order to win the case, you must prove by clear and convincing evidence that there is a reason to change the established custodial environment. This is similar to the concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal cases, in other words, the highest standard of review that a judge would ever use to decide any legal matter. It is the strictest standard of review.
However, there are many factors that could affect this outcome that you’ll need to speak with your attorney about as they relate to your specific case and circumstances. Deciding to pursue a change of custody should not be taken lightly, and you will want to consult with an experienced attorney before filing anything with the court.
I’m Still Not Sure if I Should Seek a Custody Modification in Michigan?
If you are thinking about requesting a change of custody in Michigan then reach out to ADAM. Our experienced staff will be able to help you determine if seeking a custody modification is the best course of action and they’ll be able to help you with it every step of the process.