Michigan Child Custody Hearings: What to Expect

Hearings are court sessions with a judicial officer. They're held so the court can gather information, make decisions in a case and issue orders.

They can be brief and straightforward (e.g., 15 minutes to approve a settlement agreement) or long and complex (e.g., hours or days to decide final custody orders when parents can't agree).

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In some counties, all your hearings will be with a judge, whose decisions immediately become court orders.

In other counties, judges appoint domestic relations referees to oversee certain hearings. Referees make recommendations that judges automatically approve unless a parent files an objection, which prompts a rehearing with the judge.

Types of hearings

Which hearings you have depends on the specifics of your case, as well as your court's procedures.

Motion hearings (including ex parte objection hearings)

Parents make a formal request to the court by filing a motion. Typically, the court holds a hearing to decide whether to approve or deny the motion.

Parents may file a wide variety of motions: for a custody investigation, a lawyer-guardian ad litem, a modification to existing orders and more.

At the hearing that follows, the parent who filed the motion (or their lawyer) must explain the reasons for the request, with evidence. Typically, the other parent (or their lawyer) can also present arguments and evidence.

Ex parte motions, however, have a different process. These ask the court to immediately issue ex parte orders (a.k.a. emergency orders) without the other parent's involvement. This is common in cases with domestic violence or child abuse.

The court initially decides an ex parte request without a hearing. If it grants the request, the other parent has 14 days from notification to file an objection and request a hearing. Alternatively, if the court denies the ex parte motion, the parent who filed it has 21 days to object and ask for a hearing.

Both parents can participate in a resulting hearing by presenting evidence and calling witnesses. Then, the judicial officer decides what to order.

Settlement hearings

Settlement agreements must be approved by a judge in a short settlement hearing, also called a consent hearing.

The plaintiff (the parent who filed the case) must attend. The defendant (the other parent) can attend but is typically not required to.

These hearings typically last 10 to 15 minutes. The judge reviews the agreement, including the parenting schedule, to ensure it's in the children's best interests and meets state law. Then parents (not their lawyers) may have to answer questions or read a brief testimony stating the facts of the case.

Objection hearings

Your Friend of the Court (FOC) case manager or custody investigator may recommend temporary orders for custody, parenting time and child support to the court.

The court will issue orders according to the recommendation, unless a parent files an objection first. Parents have 14 or 21 days to object, depending on the county.

Objecting spurs a hearing, in which both parents (or their lawyers) can present evidence to argue for their preferred arrangement. At the end, the judicial officer issues temporary orders.

Objection hearings average between 30 and 60 minutes, but can last longer in more complicated cases.

Most FOC recommendations are for temporary orders. However, in some cases, the FOC recommends final orders after a custody investigation. If a parent objects to this type of recommendation, the court holds a final custody hearing.

Final custody hearings

Final custody hearings occur when parents can't agree throughout the custody process, or when a parent objects to an FOC recommendation for final orders.

In these hearings, parents (or their lawyers) present all their evidence and question witnesses in front of the judge. They can also question each other's witnesses. In addition, the judge might interview the children outside the courtroom, without parents present.

A final hearing can last a few hours or a few days, depending on the case.

When the judge has heard everything, they consider the evidence and any FOC recommendations. They may announce their decisions immediately or within a few days. The court then issues final orders reflecting the decisions.

Civil contempt hearings

When a parent commits severe or repeat violations of a custody order, the court holds a civil contempt hearing, sometimes called a show cause hearing.

To start the process, a parent must submit a complaint and evidence to the FOC (except for violations of child support orders, which the FOC enforces automatically).

At the hearing, both parents present evidence and give testimony. The judge or domestic relations referee may issue new orders, fine the offending parent up to $100, suspend their driver's license or passport, or even order them to jail.

Hearing procedures

When you submit paperwork that requests or requires a hearing, the court clerk sets a hearing date and gives you documents that you must serve on the other parent to inform them of the proceeding.

Final custody hearings are typically scheduled for a specific time, whereas other hearings are generally scheduled in time blocks (and in some counties, on a first-come, first-served basis).

For time-blocked hearings, check in with the court clerk and then wait in the courtroom. You'll likely need to sit through hearings for other cases.

For most hearings, you'll begin by swearing to tell the truth.

If you have a lawyer, they'll speak to the court and introduce evidence on your behalf. If you don't have a lawyer, you'll do this yourself.

Preparing evidence for your hearing

Decisions made at hearings can have far-reaching effects on your case and your children. Effective preparation is crucial.

If you have a lawyer, they'll help you prepare. Provide them with everything they request, and always be honest with them so they can best represent you.

If you're representing yourself, prepare as thoroughly as a lawyer would. Familiarize yourself with the factors the court considers in custody decisions. Review Michigan's court rules and evidence requirements.

For many hearings, you need evidence that demonstrates your ability to support your children's best interests. You may need to prove claims you made in your initial filing, disprove the other parent's claims, or challenge findings from a custody investigation.

Common types of evidence include photos, emails, text messages, social media posts, character reference letters and family calendars, as well as school, medical, financial and legal records.

Witness testimony is also a common type of evidence. Lay witnesses (non-experts) can testify to what they have personally observed. These witnesses may include parents themselves, relatives and professionals who have worked with the family, from child care providers to therapists.

For final custody hearings, parents can also hire expert witnesses, such as forensic psychologists or child development specialists, to offer professional opinions.

Witnesses may testify in person or submit written sworn testimony, depending on their availability and the court's procedures.


  • Ask the court clerk or FOC office about specific procedures and requirements.
  • Before your court date, observe a hearing to get a sense of what to expect.
  • On hearing days, dress like you're going to a job interview or to church.
  • Arrive early to find parking, go through security and locate the courtroom.
  • Only bring your children if they're being interviewed that day.
  • Friends and family can attend, but don't bring new romantic partners.
  • Always refer to the judge or referee as "Your Honor."
  • Show respect to everyone, and never interrupt.
  • Ask for clarification if you don't understand something.
  • When speaking, take your time, but don't ramble or go off topic.
  • Answer questions directly, and only provide explanations when prompted.
  • Don't lie or provide misleading information.

Using technology for your hearing

The evidence you'll need to prepare for a hearing depends on the topic being considered.

You may want to present:

The Custody X Change online app lets you create all of these in one place. It helps you prepare for every hearing that comes up in your case.

Take advantage of custody technology to get what's best for your children.

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