Plaintiff-mother appeals, contesting the trial court's awarding both parties joint physical and legal custody of their child. The trial court divided parenting time equally.
Plaintiff-mother initially argues that the trial court erred in determining that an established custodial environment existed with both parents. An established custodial environment exits if over an appreciable time the child naturally looks to the custodian in that environment for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort. . . considering the age of the child, the physical environment, and the inclination of the custodian and the child as to permanency of the relationship.
In this case, the trial court was presented with conflicting testimony about the involvement of the parties in the care and custody of their child. After considering the record, we agree with the trial court, which concluded that ample evidence suggested that the child looked to both parents to provide "guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort." MCL 722.27(1)(c). Although the parties had disparate views on defendant-father's involvement in the child's life prior to the parties' separation, there is evidence showing that the child was cared for by both parents during the child's first three months. Plaintiff cared for the child while defendant worked, but when home, defendant helped prepare meals, played with the child, and changed his diapers. After the separation, defendant quickly filed an emergency motion because plaintiff was not allowing him to see the child. Defendant consistently exercised his parenting time established by the order resulting from his emergency motion. Defendant testified that the child was attached to both plaintiff and himself, and a Child Protective Services worker testified that defendant was very attentive and interactive with the child during parenting time. The testimony also established that defendant's home provided an appropriate environment for the child. A psychologist that tested both parents, opined that defendant is "an appropriate, warm, nurturing, appropriate caregiver."
The best interest factors relevant to this appeal are:
(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.
(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.
(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. [MCL 722.23.]
It is presumed to be in the best interests of a child for the child to have a strong relationship with both of his or her parents.
Given the trial court's determination on the best interest factors, which were not erroneous and most of which favored defendant, plaintiff has failed to show that the trial court's ultimate decision was an abuse of discretion.
If you are going through a divorce or are separating from the mother or father of your children, it is important to protect your custodial rights. If the divorce or separation process does not turn out like you thought it would, you may not have the custody, visitation or child support you deserve. Seek the advice and guidance of an experienced family law and divorce attorney who will be by your side every step of the way.