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FAMILY LAW 71: Custody Dispute - Willingness to facilitate a close and continuing parent-child relationship.

The parties were married in 2005. JB was born during the marriage. JB has special needs, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, and mild cognitive impairment. In 2018, plaintiff filed a complaint for divorce that sought joint legal and physical custody of JB.

Defendant answered and agreed to joint legal custody but requested sole physical custody.

The trial court entered an order at the outset of the litigation granting the parties equal parenting time pending the determination of custody.

Personal Protection Order

In September 2018, defendant alleged that plaintiff entered her residence without her permission and refused to leave and took and used her cellular phone without her permission to send photographs and text messages to people. Defendant obtained a personal protection order because of this incident, and plaintiff was also criminally charged, ultimately pleading guilty to unauthorized access of defendant’s cellular phone.

On October 30, 2019, a consent judgment of divorce was entered that left unresolved the issues of custody and parenting time. By the time of the custody hearings, defendant was living in Southgate, while plaintiff continued residing in the former marital home in Adrian. A central dispute between the parties was where JB would continue to attend High School.

Custody Hearing

At the conclusion of the custody hearings, the trial court determined that JB’s established custodial environment was with defendant alone. The trial court then analyzed the best-interest factors set forth in MCL 722.23 and granted sole legal custody of JB to defendant, with the parties having joint physical custody.

The trial court ordered that defendant was to have most of the parenting time during the school year, with JB transferring to the new high school. Plaintiff was to have the bulk of the parenting time during the summer, as well as ample parenting time for holidays.

Established Custodial Environment

In determining the existence of an established custodial environment, the focus is on the care of the child during the period preceding the custody trial. A custodial environment can be established as a result of a temporary custody order, in violation of a custody order, or in the absence of a custody order.

The trial court found that the established custodial environment weighs in favor of defendant. The trial court noted that it had considered the parties’ testimony at the custody hearings and the camera interview with JB, and that defendant had historically been much more involved in caring for JB than plaintiff.

Best Interest Factors

Factor (j) is the willingness and ability of each party to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent. MCL 722.23(j). The trial court found that this factor favored defendant, and that plaintiff was not willing or able to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between JB and defendant.

Factor (k) is domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child. MCL 722.23(k). With respect to this factor, the trial court noted testimony by defendant that there was domestic violence against her and JB.

Assisting Parents with Custody Matters

At Aldrich Legal Services, our attorneys and staff understand the stress that can come with family law disputes. Our firm is committed to helping you find resolutions to all your family law needs, allowing you to move on with your life in a positive way.

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