What are the most important things to know if you want to change a child custody arrangement?

What to know if you want to change your custody order?

In Michigan, once a custody order is entered, it is not so simple to change the order.  There are two major inquiries the Court will make to determine if custody should be changed, and just because the answer to one is yes, does not mean the change will happen.  Changes of custody can be some of the most complex cases we see.

The Court starts with the principal that maintaining the child’s established custodial environment is what is best for a child, unless there has been one of these: Proper Cause, or a Change in Circumstances.

Therefore if you are seeking a change in your custodial arrangement, the first step is this:  The  party who wants the change has the responsibility of showing the court that there has been “proper cause” or a change of circumstances such that it would be in their child or children’s best interest to take them out of the environment that they are used to, or their Established Custodial Environment.

If you are the person defending a change of custody motion,  your job is to show the court either that the other parent hasn’t shown a sufficient change of circumstances or that despite the change, it is best for the children to remain where they are.

So the next question is, what are sufficient changes? What does proper cause even mean?  There are many things that could constitute a change of circumstances or proper cause: a parent could become unstable, moving multiple times in a short period of time.  Another example is developing a drug or alcohol problem.  Another example is if the children’s performance in school or grades have dropped.  Entering into a new relationship with an abusive or dangerous partner is another example.  If Children’s Protective Services is involved and finds evidence of abuse or neglect, it may be your duty to try to change custody to protect your children.  There isn’t a specific or definitive list of items that would qualify, and it will depend partially on the history, but mostly on an analysis of what is going on with the children’s life right now.

You will have to show the Court why it is best to change custody, and far too often we see people who seem to be telling the court simply “I don’t like this custody arrangement.”  The law is very clear that not liking the arrangement is not enough.  Having a lawyer help you to articulate your reasons for not liking the order will greatly improve your chances of succeeding.

But there is more! This does not end the inquiry.  Once the person who desires the change has shown sufficient changes or proper cause, there is a second analysis the Court has to do.

The next step is for the Court to examine whether the change would be in the best interest of your children, or simply put- will this improve the children’s lives.  It is imperative during this stage that you show sufficient proof, because if you can only show that there has been a change, but not that it will improve your children’s lives, you could lose your motion.  The Court will analyze what it calls the best interest factors.  These factors:

(a) The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.

(b) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any.

(c) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs.

(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.

(e) The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.

(f) The moral fitness of the parties involved.

(g) The mental and physical health of the parties involved.

(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.

(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.

(j) The willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parents.

(k) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.

(l) Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

The Court will analyze each of these factors and give them the weight the Court determines each factor deserves.  If you think that it may be best your children to have a change in your custody judgment or order, please feel free to give our office a call for a consultation to see if there has been a change of circumstances and give you sound advice on how to proceed showing that it is in your children’s best interest to change custody.