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Trial court must fully describe ECE and address statutory best interest factors in making custody and parenting time decisions

Concluding that the trial court failed to describe on the record the child's ECE, and failed to adequately address the statutory best interest factors affecting its custody and parenting time decisions, the court vacated the custody and parenting time awards in the parties' divorce judgment, and remanded. The trial court awarded the parties joint legal custody of the child (SA) and accepted a parenting time schedule that would allow the plaintiff-father increased visitation periods as SA grows older. The defendant-mother challenged both awards on appeal. As to the award of joint legal custody, the court noted that it was clear on the record that SA had an ECE with defendant, at least as to physical custody. While not using this terminology, plaintiff conceded this fact throughout the case. As to legal custody, the record tended to support that defendant made all decisions about SA between the separation and the trial court's ruling. However, the trial court "gave no consideration to this issue before awarding the parties joint legal custody." This was its "first clear legal error that must be remedied on remand." Further, if awarding joint legal custody would alter the child's ECE, the trial court "must insist on plaintiff showing proper cause or a change in circumstances establishing that an alteration in legal custody is in SA's best interests." It also failed to adequately consider and make specific findings on the record as to the factors affecting its joint legal custody decision. It stated general reasons supporting its decision, but "made no effort to tie those reasons to the best interest factors of MCL 722.23 as required by MCL 722.26a(1)(a)." It also "never addressed whether the parents would be able to cooperate and agree regarding important decisions as required by MCL 722.26a(1)(b)." Further, the court concluded that even with "the more limited review required in parenting time disputes," the trial court "failed to meet its burden." It did not "make findings concerning several contested issues, including the parties' capacity and disposition to facilitate the child's academic and religious education, the burden of interstate parenting time on this special needs child, the reasonableness of plaintiff's plan to exercise parenting time in accordance with the court order, and plaintiff's history of infrequent and prematurely quitted parenting time sessions." It also "tied none of its findings to any best interest factor in MCL 722.23." The court issued an order setting forth time frames for the proceedings on remand, and retained jurisdiction.

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