Joint custody mandated in Michigan

Children|June 24th 2017

Family judges in the northerly American state of Michigan could be required to award divorcing parents joint custody of their children by default.

House Bill 4691 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee of the state legislature earlier this week. It would mandate equal parenting following divorce unless substantiated reports of domestic violence have been made.

The bill was introduced by Republication state representative Jim Runstad to remove the current ability of family court judges to decide how much contact each parent will have with their children on a case-by-case basis. Different judges take different approaches in different parts of the state.

Representative Runstad told the Detroit Free Press:

“We looked at county by county statistics on what happens in custody situations and what we found out is that the custody arrangements are not determined by the kind of parent that you are, but the judge in the county. We have study after study of the benefits of shared parenting. It’s a tremendous benefit for the children.”

The bill faced significant opposition from judges, lawyers and campaigners across the state who argued against the presumption that equal parenting is an appropriate approach in most cases.

Arguments against included the suggestion that shared parenting would make it harder for both parents to find work, that children would feel uprooted, and that it could be used to cut child support obligations without a corresponding increase in actual care of the children. The latter claim reflects the fact that the level of child support payment is reduced according to the amount of overnight stays  the paying parent has with their children.

The Michigan Poverty Law Program provides, as the name suggests, legal services intended to benefit lower income families. Spokeswoman Rebecca Shiemke explained:

“That would reduce the child support burden that one parent would have to pay to the other. So a parent could get a lower child support obligation and then just not exercise their equal time.”

Meanwhile, two local family judges claimed that an equal parenting presumption took no account of the parent who actually undertakes most childcare in each family.

In testimony for the committee Judges Kathleen Feeney and Brian Kirkham wrote:

“This presumption disregards the actual facts as to which parent provides day-to-day support, maintenance and nurturing of the child and instead substitutes the mere presence of a parent.”

The bill would also prohibit either parent from moving more than 80 miles away from the other while the children are in their minority. In addition, judges would be required to give considerable weight to the views of children over the age of 16.

House Bill 4691 was passed by a 6-3 vote, with Republican representatives in support and Democrats opposed. It will proceed to a debate and vote before the full House of Representatives following the summer recess.

You can read more here.

Photo of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing by Subterranean/ Bryan Robb via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons licence

Author: Stowe Family Law


  1. spinner says:

    All that’s happened here is they have set a start point of 50:50 shared care with consequent zero child maintenance payments. This may not be what one parent wants or is able to provide so they don’t have to do it that way and make so they make payments. This also stops one side using the children to secure a better deal in the financial part of the divorce.

    If one parent is unable to find work due to 50:50 shared care arrangements then clearly they can’t take on the responsibility of shared care and so will have to stop, find work and then make child maintenance payments to the parent that can work and take on child care.

  2. Paul says:

    Progress. An its now the americans who are leading the way. Leading the way on joint custody. Leading the way on dealing with PAS. More forward thinking and progressive legal system. In the US people value their lawyers as a valueable nessisary part of modern life. Over hear viewed more like some kind of pestilance. Sad times ahead for backwards Britain. Our darkage rule book is making monkeys out of us all.

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