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Pending House Legislation May Dramatically Change Michigan’s Current Child Custody Laws

December 12, 2017
Family Law Advisory

Child with back pack holding an adult's handLate this spring, members of the Michigan House of Representatives introduced House Bill No. 4691, the Michigan Shared Parenting Act. The proposed legislation stands to fundamentally change Michigan's child custody law. Some of the major changes include creating a presumption of joint legal custody and equal parenting time, and reducing the distance a parent may relocate without court permission from the current 100 miles, to 40 miles.

Joint legal custody means that the parents share decision-making authority as to important decisions affecting the child. A legal presumption would require judges to enter an order requiring joint legal custody in all cases, absent one of the parents establishing that a child's health, safety, or well-being would be materially compromised. The current law only requires the court to consider an award of joint custody based upon the best interests of the children. From a practical standpoint, most judges tend to order joint legal custody despite the fact that there is not a legal presumption. However, in cases involving domestic violence, abuse and neglect, judges do not always award joint legal custody.

The proposal on a mandatory presumption for equal parenting time is probably the most significant change. Currently, judges award parenting time as they determine, based upon their discretion in analyzing the best interests of the children. There is not a presumption of equal parenting time. The new legislation creates a presumption in favor of equal parenting time which is defined as a parenting time schedule that does not award either parent more than 200 overnights a year, unless agreed upon by the parties. As a result, the legislation removes a lot of the discretion that judges have in their making parenting time decisions.

Finally, under Michigan law, if either parent wishes to relocate more than 100 miles with the child, the relocating parent must obtain court approval. The new legislation changes the 100 mile rule to just 40 miles. In a more global society where parents seem required to transfer more frequently for employment, this proposal seems to create more litigation.

At this point, the legislation was referred by the Judiciary Committee for a second reading on June 20, 2017, but no further action has been taken.

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