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Understanding the various types of child custody

Parents in Michigan need to understand their rights when it comes to their children. In this day and age, each family is unique and many unmarried parents are raising children. This presents various issues when it comes to custody.

For the most part, both biological parents have equal child custody rights until a court intervenes and orders otherwise. Michigan judges have the ability to grant custody to one parent or both and there is nothing under the law that says mothers should be given higher priority when it comes to custody. Additionally, when a judge orders a custody arrangement, the arrangement is not necessarily permanent. Circumstances change and a change might agree to modify such an order in the future if there is good reason.

When a judge hands down a custody order, there are different types of custody that may be involved. Legal custody gives a parent the right to make life-decisions for his or her child. This includes decisions surrounding school and health care. Physical custody is when a parent has the right for the child to live with the parent.

Terminology like "sole custody" is often tossed about in family law. Sole custody simply means that only one parent has both physical and legal custody. In this situation, the other parent would not have those custodial rights. Joint custody is yet another arrangement and can mean a few different things but generally suggests that both parents share some type of custody, whether legal, physical or both.

When one parent is not awarded custody, judges will often award visitation rights instead, unless there is a strong reason against it. Again, there are different forms of parenting time that accompany visitation rights depending on the circumstances. Judges can order exact details for visits, including when and where and how long. Judges can also order reasonable parenting time, which is much more relaxed and often depends on what arrangement is agreed on by the parents.

Creating an amicable and workable child custody arrangement can be difficult for some divorcing or splitting parents. When custody or visitation arrangements are being sought, parents should understand how different arrangements could look like and what their rights are in the situation.

Source: Michigan Supreme Court, "Michigan Custody Guideline," Accessed August 4, 2014

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