MI Custody Investigations: What Parents Need to Know

To determine the best custody arrangement, a court may order an investigation (sometimes called an evaluation), in which an expert assesses each parent's ability to support the children's needs.

Custody investigators are social workers or psychologists with the Friend of the Court (FOC) office. They make recommendations for custody that become court orders if parents don't file an objection.

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When investigations take place

The court may require a custody investigation at any point in the legal process. It may order one early on to help decide temporary orders, or later, after mediation for final orders is unsuccessful.

The court can order investigations with or without a request from a parent. They become more likely if parents make accusations challenging each other's parenting.

What happens in an investigation

When a judge orders an investigation, the FOC mails parents notice of an interview date, along with questionnaires that must be completed and returned in advance. If a parent requested the investigation, they may have to pay a fee before it can begin.

The investigator interviews parents at the FOC office — together, if scheduling allows and if the parents don't have a history of domestic violence or extreme conflict. The investigator asks in-depth questions to address the 12 factors in custody decisions.

The investigator may also interview the children, either at the FOC office or a parent's home. (Parents cannot sit in.) The investigator tries to understand the children's relationships with each parent, rather than ask the children whom they want to live with. If a child conveys a preference, the investigator considers it along with the other factors.

The investigator also speaks to others who can provide relevant information, such as other relatives, teachers, child care providers, doctors, therapists, etc. Parents can provide references who can speak to their ability to support and care for their children.

In addition, the investigator reviews the family's records: any criminal, social services or child welfare records, and possibly medical and financial records. They might also conduct scheduled or surprise home inspections.

Investigator's report and recommendation

To conclude, the investigator writes a report that summarizes their findings and recommends either temporary or final orders for custody and parenting time, and possibly for child support. The recommendation addresses each child's needs individually.

In cases with high conflict or special circumstances, the investigator may also recommend a specific parenting plan.

The FOC sends a copy of the recommendation to the parents. Depending on the county, parents have 14 or 21 days to file an objection. If either parent objects, both can present their side of the issue at a hearing for a judge or domestic relations referee to decide.

If no one objects, the Friend of the Court recommendation is typically approved and becomes a court order.

Tips for parents going through an investigation

  • Prepare with an attorney or legal professional.
  • Take all interactions with the investigator seriously, including phone calls and emails.
  • Always act professionally and courteously when speaking to the investigator.
  • Be on time for meetings and home visits.
  • Comply with all investigator requests in a timely manner.
  • Always show that your children are a top priority in your life.
  • Do not lie or provide misleading information.
  • Recognize your strengths and weaknesses as a parent.
  • Try not to speak negatively about the other parent.
  • Don't tell your children what to say to the investigator.
  • Understand that the investigation is not meant to interrogate or punish you, but to determine what's best for your children.

Staying organized

Custody investigations add complexity and stress to an already difficult process. Effective preparation and organization are essential.

Throughout your case, you may need to create a parenting plan, draft custody schedules, keep a log about interactions with the other parent, and more.

With a variety of tools you can use in Michigan, the Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place.

With a parenting plan template, parenting time calendars, a digital journal and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to custody.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

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