Special Circumstances in Michigan Child Custody

In Michigan, a number of special circumstances can affect the process your case follows, as well as the outcome.

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Unmarried parents and paternity confirmation

When an unmarried mother gives birth, she has full legal and physical custody until the parents legally establish paternity. Then parents have equal rights and responsibilities regarding custody (as well as child support) and can ask the court for custody orders.

The most common way to confirm paternity is to submit an Affidavit of Parentage to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Both parents must sign in front of a notary, which is often done at the hospital when a child is born. However, parents can submit the form to DHHS anytime. Include a copy when you file your custody case.

If the other parent won't sign the affidavit, you can open a paternity case in family court to request DNA testing along with orders for custody, parenting time and child support.

Alternatively, you can get DNA testing through DHHS. DHHS will then handle child support, and either parent can file for custody and parenting time in family court. If a parent won't cooperate with DNA testing, the county prosecutor opens a paternity case.

Unmarried parents who want orders for child support only can use DHHS child support services instead of going to family court.

When an unmarried parent who doesn't have a child support order files for public assistance, DHHS automatically opens a child support case on their behalf. Parents must still file in family court for custody and parenting time orders.

Protection from domestic violence during your case

Victims of domestic violence should consult with an attorney or a legal aid office before filing a case. If that's not possible, consult with the court clerk.

These professionals can help you request a personal protection order for yourself and your children, as well as a temporary custody order. You can ask the court to issue both quickly, without the other parent's involvement (ex parte, in legal terms).

If the court approves ex parte orders, they take effect immediately and you must serve the other parent with copies. That parent has 14 days to file an objection.

If the court does not approve the ex parte request, you have 21 days to file an objection.

When either parent objects, both must attend a hearing to present evidence to a judge or domestic relations referee, who decides what happens next.

Unless either one is terminated at the hearing, a personal protection order stays in effect for at least 182 days, and a temporary custody order lasts until it's replaced by a final order.

In cases involving domestic violence, parents have separate Friend of the Court meetings and custody investigation interviews and are typically excused from the court's mediation requirement.

History of domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse or crime

If a parent has criminal convictions or corroborated allegations of domestic violence, child abuse or substance abuse against them, the court typically presumes the other parent should have sole custody. This presumption can be overturned if the parent proves their behavior is in the past or not detrimental to the children.

When a parent receives sole custody, the other parent generally receives some parenting time, often supervised.

When child abuse is alleged or suspected, the Friend of the Court refers the case to Child Protective Services (CPS). Severe instances of abuse and neglect can lead CPS to ask the court to terminate the abuser's parental rights entirely.

Supervised parenting time

When the court decides children shouldn't be alone with a parent, it can order three kinds of supervised parenting time: agency, third-party or therapeutic.

Agency-supervised parenting time, ordered when a parent poses a physical risk to the children, takes place at a certified child protection agency.

In third-party supervision, a friend of the family, a relative or another individual appointed by the court (e.g., a parenting coordinator) supervises in a location agreed upon by parents. It's ordered when a parent poses less of a risk — for example, when they struggle with substance abuse, but don't have a history of violence.

In therapeutic supervision, a mental health expert helps improve the parent–child relationship while supervising parenting time. The court orders this when a parent has spent little time with the children or needs help bonding with them for other reasons.

Orders for supervised parenting time include plans for transitioning to less restrictive supervision and to unsupervised time, when appropriate. The plans lay out requirements the restricted parent must meet, such as attending counseling or completing substance abuse treatment.

Lawyer–guardian ad litem

If a judge believes a child's interests are getting muddled in litigation, they may appoint a lawyer–guardian ad litem (LGAL).

As the child's legal representative, the LGAL can file motions to request court action, call witnesses, and speak on behalf of the child at hearings and other court proceedings.

Parents (or their lawyers) can file a motion to request a lawyer–guardian ad litem, or the judge may appoint one of their own accord. In most cases, parents are responsible for paying the LGAL's fees.

Language services

Michigan provides court interpreters for parents with limited English proficiency. Interpreters are available for in-person conversations with the court clerk, Friend of the Court (FOC) meetings, court-ordered mediation and hearings.

To ask for an interpreter, submit a completed interpreter request form to the court clerk in person or by mail. The clerk can help you complete the form, which is available in Arabic, Chinese (simplified), Korean, Serbo-Croation, Spanish and Vietnamese. Contact the court clerk if you need an interpreter in another language.

You can also request an interpreter during an FOC meeting or court hearing, but it's better to make the request early so the court has an interpreter ready.

Michigan also offers some translated court forms to help parents better understand the legal process. You must submit the English versions of the forms.

Each county has a language access program. Most legal aid offices and community dispute resolution centers have multilingual staff and information in multiple languages.

Parents who need American Sign Language interpretation should submit an Americans with Disabilities (ADA) request to the court clerk.

Undocumented parents

In Michigan, no law prevents undocumented parents from receiving custody. At the same time, no law prevents a judge from considering a parent's immigration status.

Before filing or responding to a case, undocumented parents should contact their local legal aid office or an immigration lawyer with knowledge of Michigan family law.

If a parent is detained or deported for immigration issues, they have the right to participate in the case remotely. They can use phone or video to participate in mediation, hearings and more.

Addressing special circumstances in a parenting plan

In Michigan, a parenting plan for managing legal custody is strongly recommended, particularly in cases with special circumstances.

If a lawyer or mediator is writing your plan, share with them any circumstances it should address.

If you're writing your own plan, you have the flexibility to include what you want. But it should use airtight language that leaves no room for interpretation.

The Custody X Change parenting plan template walks you through common provisions, while letting you enter as many custom provisions as you want. It's a sure way to get a plan that tailored to your family and meets legal standards for formatting and language.

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