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Proposed Michigan Bill Seeks Presumption of Equal Custody of Children

A recently proposed bill aims to substantially increase the granting of joint custody by Michigan courts. State Representative Brian Calley, R-Portland, introduced the legislation calling for courts to typically award custody to both parents when disputed.

The bill responds to overwhelmingly one-sided statistics regarding child-custody disputes in Michigan. The Michigan Supreme Court Administrative Office’s 2008 report states that custody was granted to women 92 percent of the time in instances where sole custody was awarded. Sole custody is awarded 87 percent of the times when a custody dispute arises.

The numbers clearly illustrate that when resolving a dispute, Michigan courts routinely place child custody in the hands of one parent, and that parent is almost always the mother. Calley’s bill aims to address this trend by directing courts to give mothers and fathers joint custody in most situations.

What the Bill Says

Basically, the bill calls for a presumption of equal custody unless one of two exceptions is present. The first exception is where clear and convincing evidence demonstrates that one parent is unfit, unwilling or unable to care for the child.

The second exception is where one parent moves outside of the child’s school district, making him or her unable to maintain the child’s school schedule without interruption. In this circumstance, the bill requires the parents to mediate so they can develop a custody agreement that facilitates equal relationship time by each parent while accommodating the child’s schooling.

Will this Affect My Custody Dispute?

The proposed legislation has been referred to as the “Father’s Rights Bill.” Advocates generally disagree with this label and consider it to be an effort to support both Michigan fathers’ and mothers’ involvement in their child’s life. The bill is designed to increase joint-custody situations and allow both parents to have substantial roles in the child’s life.

It is important to note that this bill is proposed legislation; it is currently not the law and may never be. Even if the legislation passes, the law would not allow an unfit parent to have custody. If you are involved in a custody dispute, or are considering a custody agreement, it is crucial to contact an experienced family law attorney to protect your rights under Michigan law.