Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In Custody Hearings, the Judge Cannot Just Rely on Friend of the Court’s Recommendation

In Michigan, if a parent has proven to the court that there has been a change in circumstance or proper cause to consider a change in custody, the court will generally ask Friend of the Court to make a custody recommendation. Friend of the Court will investigate and make a recommendation to the Court after a full analysis of the best interests of the child by weighing the following factors:

(1) The love, affection &other emotional ties existing between the parties involved & the child.
(2) The capacity & disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection &guidance and to continue the education & raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any.
(3) The capacity & 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.
(4) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment &the desirability of maintaining continuity.
(5) The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
(6) The moral fitness of the parties involved.
(7) The mental & physical health of the parties involved.
(8) The home, school & community record of the child.
(9) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
(10) The willingness & ability of each of the parties to facilitate & encourage a close & continuing parent-child relationship between the child & the other parent or the child and the parents.
(11) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.
(12) Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

After analysis of these factors, the Friend of the Court will then issue a written report and recommendation that is submitted to the parents and to the Judge. The Judge will review and consider the recommendation.

However, the Judge cannot just adopt the recommendation without hearing testimony and considering evidence. This requirement was reiterated in the case of Deling v Lam, unpublished case per curiam of the Michigan Court of Appeals, issued October 7, 2010 (Docket No. 295272). In that case, the trial judge merely adopted the Friend of the Court recommendation, which radically changed the physical custody arrangement from joint physical custody to giving the father sole physical custody. The trial judge did not hear testimony or consider evidence—the judge just adopted the recommendation. The mother appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, stating that the trial judge improperly delegated its authority by failing to independently evaluate each of the best interest factors. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision and sent the case back to the trial court for a new custody hearing.

In issues of custody and parenting time, it is extremely important to understand not only what your rights are as a parent, but also to fully understand every step in the process.
If you are interested in learning more about child support, divorce or family law, please call Wendy Alton at 734-665-4441 or email her at walton@psedlaw.com. More information about her firm, Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels, P.C., can be found here: www.psedlaw.com

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