When divorce or separation occurs there is a need to consider who is going to care for the child or children of the two parents. Child custody is never an easy issue. In some cases, a family curt may even rule that neither parent is “fit” enough to care for their child(ren) and custody may be granted to another family member, usually a grandparent. But how “fit” does a parent have to be to be fit enough to care for their own child?
In Michigan, as in most other states, whenever child custody is decided by the court, the “best interests” of the child(ren) are always paramount. A parent is considered fit if it is in the best interests of their child(ren) if they look after them.
Michigan’s Child Custody Act considers a parent to be fit if the “parent is capable of adequately caring for his or her children”. The definition was incorporated into the Act only after it was decided by the Michigan Court of Appeals that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Troxel vs Granville would be used to make a decision about a recent dispute between two parents and a grandparent about the custody of their four children.
The parents were divorced but were able to come to an arrangement about parenting. This was challenged by the paternal grandfather who applied for the custody of the children. A trial court initially decided that the parents were not “fit” to look after their own children because of inconsistencies in the way they approached the care, discipline and upbringing of their children. The parents the appealed the decision
The Appeals court ruled that the parents were fit enough to look after their own children using the definition provided by the Troxel vs Granville case and that custody by the parents was in “the best interests of the children”. The grandparent’s application was denied. It was noted by the Court of Appeals that the state’s Child Custody Act at that point did not have a definition of the word “fit” as it applied to parental care.
The criteria used in determining the best interests of a child
Making a judgment about what is the “best interests” of children when determining who should have custody is never easy. A Michigan Family Court looks at the following criteria when making a decision. The actual decision is the sum total of all these criteria.
- The degree of affection, love and other emotional factors that exist between parents and their children;
- The ability of the parents to be able to provide affection, love, guidance and the provision of education and religious upbringing, if any;
- The ability of the parents to provide the basic necessities of life, including clothing, food and medical care;
- How long the child(ren) have been living in a stable family environment;
- The preference of the child(ren) for a continued relationship with either parent if the child is considered old enough to make a valid judgment;
- How permanent the family home or the custodial home is likely to be;
- How morally fit the parent(s) are;
- How mentally or physically fit the parents are;
- The extent of any domestic violence and whether this was directed towards the child(ren);
- The record of the child in relation to the local community, home and school;
- The ability of either parent to consider the importance of a continued relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent, discounting cases where potential violence towards the child may be possible;
- Any other factor that might be relevant to determining the outcome of a custody dispute.
Our child custody attorneys at Abood Law in East Lansing and Birmingham, Michigan understand the stress and emotional turmoil that parents experience during the course of divorce and separation, especially the worry over child custody decisions. It is advisable to discuss your circumstances with one of our attorneys before a decision is made which negatively impacts on you. Ring Abood Law on 517.332.5900 in East Lansing and 248.549.0000 in Birmingham