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Michigan could be changing custody decisions in a big way

If Michigan's House of Representatives has its way, there's about to be some big changes in the way that family court judges will start handling custody cases.

Right now, judges in disputed cases take into account just about anything that they consider to be relevant and make the decisions about who gets primary physical custody based on the child's "best interests."

The problem with that method, says at least one representative, is that custody can end up being awarded based solely on which parent has the time to drive the kids to more birthday parties and soccer games -- or whatever other activity they might be involved in.

The default position, frankly, tends to put fathers on the losing end of the equation, especially if they're the family's primary breadwinner. Even if the mother returns to work once the divorce is over, established custody arrangement can become entrenched and hard to change. Judges don't want to upset the child's accustomed routine more than necessary. In 2013, for example, mothers gained primary custody in 51 percent of cases -- while fathers gained it in only 7 percent.

The new legislation is designed to prevent that kind of disparity. It would make the legal presumptive custody order in any divorce to equal or near-equal time with each parent.

This has some big ramifications for those getting divorced because it doesn't just affect how much time parents might spend with their child -- it also affects how much child support they might receive (or pay). The formula is based heavily on how many overnight visits a child has with each parent.

The bill is not without opposition because it also puts less emphasis on the child's rights and needs and more on the parent's rights and needs -- an idea that seems ludicrous to many and dangerous to others. Some feel that it's just foolish to focus on the parents and not the child, while others worry about what is going to happen when children are turned over to a parent that's incapable or uninterested in parenting -- but willing to essentially warehouse their child in order to avoid paying support.

There are seldom easy answers in custody disputes -- so there's likely to be a lot of debate up ahead. In the meantime, if you're involved in a custody dispute during a divorce, it's essential to know your rights.

Source: MLive.com, "Michigan parents could get more joint custody, shared parenting time under House bill," Emily Lawler, Aug. 27, 2017

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