Legal Custody v. Physical Custody: How are these terms different, and how do they affect parental rights?
The purpose of a custody hearing is to determine what rights and responsibilities two parents will hold as it relates to the children at the center of the case. After reviewing the details presented by both parties, a Michigan judge will ultimately decide who the child lives with full-time (including who is responsible for making decisions on behalf of the child), parenting time (visitation), and how much the noncustodial parent will pay in child support.
Legal Custody v. Physical Custody: How These Terms Differ
Legal Custody in Michigan Defined
A parent or guardian with legal custody in Michigan has the right to make major decisions related to raising a child. This could include the child’s medical care, schooling, religious practices, and other items. If a judge assigns a parent with sole legal custody, then he or she can make these decisions without consulting the other parent.
Parents with joint custody, on the other hand, will make these decisions together.
Physical Custody in Michigan Defined
Physical custody determines which parent the child lives with on a day-to-day basis. The court may also grant joint physical custody, meaning the child splits living arrangements between both parents. The court could also grant one parent sole physical custody, meaning the child lives with that parent exclusively.
If one parent is granted sole physical custody, the courts will usually assist the other parent with setting up a regular parenting time (visitation) schedule.
The Impact of Custody Orders on Parenting Time
The Michigan family courts believe it is generally in the best interest of the child to have a close relationship with both parents. In a custody case, a judge will typically ensure that both parents have an equal amount of parenting time unless there is clear and convincing evidence that doing so could harm the child’s physical, mental, or emotional well-being.
The courts will usually grant parenting time if either parent requests it. If the judge in the case awards one parent with sole physical custody, the other parent will likely receive regular parenting time.
In the case that a joint physical custody arrangement is ordered, the parenting time schedule will dictate when the child will spend time with each parent, including holidays, birthdays, and school breaks.
In some cases, parents are awarded equal time with their child (this is common with joint physical custody arrangements). In other cases, the other parent is granted a few times a week or less for parenting time (this is common with sole physical custody arrangements).
The judge may order supervised parenting time or refuse to grant any parenting time at all to a parent who is considered dangerous. This usually happens in situations where the parent may be likely to:
- Physically or sexually harm the child.
- Fail to meet the child’s needs.
- Put the child in harm’s way due to alcohol or drug abuse, etc.
If one parent is comfortable speaking with the other parent to make a visitation schedule, the judge will likely agree to the arrangement as long as it meets their child’s needs. However, if they cannot reach an agreement with the other parent, the court will develop a parenting time schedule on their behalf.
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