Grand Rapids Child Custody Attorney: Navigating Custody Rights for Unmarried Parents
In an era where societal norms have evolved, more individuals are embracing parenthood outside the confines of marriage. The days when such circumstances were deemed taboo are now behind us. As a child is born, Michigan law permits the mother to add the father to the birth certificate, formally recognizing him as the child’s legal parent. By signing the birth certificate, the father willingly undertakes parental responsibilities, including the right to equal custody and parenting time.
The legal framework is aptly encapsulated in Michigan Compiled Law (MCL) 722.1004, which states that, “An acknowledgment signed… establishes paternity… [and] [t]he child who is the subject of the acknowledgment shall bear the same relationship to the mother and the man signing as the father as a child born or conceived during a marriage and shall have the identical status, rights, and duties of a child born in lawful wedlock effective from birth.”
However, when a child is born, the mother is initially granted custody, as per MCL 722.1006. It stipulates that “[a]fter a mother and father sign an acknowledgment of parentage, the mother has initial custody of the minor child, without prejudice to the determination of either parent’s custodial rights, until otherwise determined by the court or otherwise agreed upon by the parties in writing and acknowledged by the court.”
This means that, for the first few months, the mother holds sole legal and physical custody of the child. The child’s access to the father is contingent on the mother’s consent to involve him in the child’s life. If the parents cannot reach an agreement that serves the child’s best interests, the father may have to turn to the Michigan court system for resolution, often involving the Friend of the Court (FOC).
However, the initial custody granted to the mother, as per MCL 722.1006, does not inherently impinge on either parent’s rights to seek a court order for custody or parenting time. This underlines the significance of judicial intervention in determining parenting time and custody. Therefore, the father seeking his legal rights to the child need not meet the usual threshold of demonstrating a change in circumstances to initiate a court case.
Best Interests of the Child: The Compass of Custody Determination
In determining custody, the court considers what aligns with the child’s best interests. A comprehensive evaluation delves into factors like the emotional ties between the child and each parent, the parent’s capacity to provide love, affection, and guidance, their ability to meet the child’s physical needs, the duration of the child’s stable environment, the moral fitness of the parties involved, and more.
This multidimensional approach, enshrined in MCL 722.23, seeks to ascertain a custody arrangement that places the child’s welfare at the forefront.
The court’s focus is to forge a custody plan that allows the child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. This typically translates to joint custody arrangements aimed at promoting a strong parent-child bond.
Per MCL 722.26a(1), “At the request of either parent, the court shall consider an award of joint custody and shall state on the record the reasons for granting or denying a request.”
Courts are dedicated to nurturing strong parent-child bonds, as it has been recognized that children thrive best with the active involvement of both parents. The prevailing legal framework aims to ensure the child’s access to both parents, underlining the changing dynamics of child custody cases over the years.
The courts will consider what is in the best interest of the child. These are factors such as:
(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 a 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. A court may not consider negatively for the purposes of this factor any reasonable action taken by a parent to protect a child or that parent from sexual assault or domestic violence by the child’s other parent.
(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.
Courts should look at the overall case and decide what is in the child’s best interest. That doesn’t mean that the mother will be able to keep sole custody. In most cases, the courts will try to develop a joint Kent County custody plan that will allow the father to spend time with his child and form a bond. “At the request of either parent, the court shall consider an award of joint custody and shall state on the record the reasons for granting or denying a request.” MCL 722.26a(1).
Call John Engman & Associates, P.C. Today!
If you are an unmarried father seeking assistance in establishing your parenting time and visitation rights, it is imperative to seek legal counsel. At John Engman & Associates, P.C., we specialize in providing unwed fathers with the legal support they need. Whether you are filing for divorce or require guidance on spousal support, divorce, or mediation, our expert legal team is here to guide you through the process.
To discuss your case with a Grand Rapids Child Custody Attorney John Engman and Associates, P.C., please contact our office at (616) 454-5222. We are committed to assisting parents with diverse family law concerns, ensuring the best possible outcome for you and your child.