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Michigan Law: Petitioning for a Change in Child Custody

In the state of Michigan, if you feel like your current child custody arrangement no longer meets your child’s needs (or has become hostile to your child’s well-being), the burden is on you to show ‘proper cause’ for a change. The Michigan courts are charged with the protection of a child’s best interests, but one of the basic assumptions the court is required to make is that stability is in the child’s best interest.

That means that any change has to overcome the basic question of ‘is the sense of instability this change will bring about going to be outweighed by the value this change will add?’ If the answer is no — usually, when the added value is for the parent, rather the child — the petition will be denied and the custody arrangement will continue as it stands.

How to Show Proper Cause
It’s important to note that ‘showing proper cause’ doesn’t mean ‘telling the court about proper cause.’ It means bringing evidence to court that shows what the change in circumstances is and how it will affect the child. If your spouse lost their job, you need to prove it, usually by asking their former employer for a copy of their dismissal. If you suspect your spouse has been abusing your child, you need to prove it, usually by taking your child to a doctor and bringing the results of the exam before the family court judge.

What Constitutes Proper Cause?
There are a wide variety of things that could be interpreted as proper cause — in fact, any major change in the life circumstances of either parent, or of the child, can act as proper cause in the right circumstances. Here are some examples:

  • The child develops a drug or alcohol problem
  • The other parent moves several times within a short timespan (i.e. stability is already out the window)
  • You have recently entered into a stable relationship or otherwise upgraded your ability to provide a stable, nurturing environment for your child

Defending a Petition to Change Child Custody
If you’re on the other side of the aisle, you have three basic routes of heading off the change petition. The first is to prove that the ‘proper cause’ doesn’t actually change the family circumstances enough to warrant a change in custody. The second is to prove that the ‘proper cause’ is false in the first place. The last is to show the existence of a second change in circumstances that negates the first change (for example, your ex may have gotten a job and thus have more money to support your child, but they also are now away from home during the hours immediately after school through bedtime.)

Get a Family Law Attorney
Simply put, courts speak their own language — if you come to court expecting to speak English, it’s quite likely to come off to a judge with the message “I just don’t like this custody arrangement.” Having a family law firm like Gucciardo Family Law at your side to help articulate your message in the language of the courts will make your petition much more likely to succeed.

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We focus exclusively on family law matters so we are always available to answer your questions and help.

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