Custody in Michigan

When parents of a minor child get divorced, one of the central issues in the ensuing legal proceedings involves determining the custodial rights and responsibilities of the parties.Generally, custody can be categorized in the following ways:

  • Physical custody: An aspect of a custodial arrangement where one parent has the right to physically spend time with the child and designate where the child primarily resides.
  • Legal custody: A parent’s right to make important decisions on behalf of the child.
  • Sole custody: When a court grants physical or legal custodial rights to one parent over the other, this arrangement is known as sole custody.
  • Joint custody: Specifically defined under Michigan Compiled Laws § 722.26a.

The categories of custody are recognized in practice and in court rulings. However, Michigan statutory law only defines the term joint custody.

Under Michigan’s Compiled Laws § 722.26a, “joint custody” means “an order of the court in which 1 or both of the following is specified:

  • That the child shall reside alternately for specific periods with each of the parents.
  • That the parents shall share decision-making authority as to the important decisions affecting the welfare of the child.”

Based on this statute, the concepts of physical custody and legal custody arose and were adopted by the body of law established by courts. The residential arrangement of the child encompasses the concept of physical custody, whereas a parent’s rights and responsibilities regarding decision-making authority over “important decisions affecting the welfare of the child” is represented by the term “legal custody.”

Significantly, the notion of joint custody does not necessarily imply that the child splits their time equally between their parents. When it comes to the idea of physical custody, joint custody refers to an arrangement where “the child shall reside alternately for specific periods with each of the parents.”

Issues concerning the custody of a minor child in a divorce case are determined by examining factors that are relevant to the child’s best interests.

Lombardo v. Lombardo

In a joint custody arrangement where both parents have the right to make important decisions about the child’s welfare, disagreement can be a significant hurdle to overcome. When the parents in a joint custody arrangement cannot reach an agreement about important decisions for their child, a court may intervene to resolve the dispute.

The process for resolving custody disputes was established in the seminal case Lombardo v. Lombardo in 1993. In the Lombardo case, the divorced parents of three children were subject to an arrangement where the father had physical custody of all three children with the mother having visitation rights.

One of the children demonstrated his suitability for a “gifted-and-talented” education program. The mother argued that his participation in the program was vital to his educational needs and goals. However, the father expressed his concern about his son’s ability to adjust to a new school with higher standards.

The Lombardo court held that disputes between joint custodians of a child should be resolved after determining whether the decision in question would affect the established custodial environment. The Court rejected a blanket rule giving superior decision-making authority to the parent with primary physical custody. The court noted that the statute required both parents to jointly make important decisions for the child.

The Court then held that in cases where the decision would not impact the established custodial environment, the court must analyze the statutory factors of Michigan Compiled Laws § 722.23 relevant to the particular decision at issue, specifying which factors are not applicable to the inquiry.

Contact the American Divorce Association for Men (ADAM) for Legal Representation

Are you concerned about how a family law matter like divorce may affect the rights and interests of you and your children? To get a better understanding of your legal options, you should seek the services of an experienced family law attorney from the American Divorce Association for Men (ADAM).

Please call us at or contact our office online to schedule an appointment for an initial consultation about your legal concerns today.