Update on Shared Parenting Legislation After Your Divorce

If you are in the process of getting divorced in Michigan, or if you are thinking about filing for divorce in 2019, you should learn more about how Michigan law handles child custody issues and minor children in a divorce proceeding. More specifically, you should know about the continuing efforts to push for 50-50 shared parenting in the state. Although a recently proposed bill did not reach a vote on the floor this year, an article in the Detroit Free Press suggests that the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, "is sure to resurrect the matter in the new year."

Details of House Bill 4691 for 50-50 Shared Parenting

As the article explains, House Bill 4691 would have required judges "to award shared custody of children to divorced parents unless there was evidence of domestic violence." In requiring judges to allocate 50-50 shared custody, the proposed legislation also would have taken away a judge's discretion in determining what type of custody arrangement is in the child's best interests. In addition, the bill "would have prohibited parents from moving more than 80 miles away from the other parent and would require judges to take the wishes of the children, if they're older than 16, into account when making custody decision."

In sum, the bill aimed to do the following:

  • Require 50-50 shared parenting, except in cases involving domestic violence;

  • Require parents to live within 80 miles of one another; and

  • Require courts to consider child's wishes in custody cases if child is over the age of 16.

Many fathers' rights groups support the proposed legislation, and numerous noncustodial parents in Michigan advocate for the bill's passage. However, there were also numerous detractors, especially advocates for ending domestic violence. Even some judges and members of the Michigan Bar's family law section opposed the passage of the bill, or at least questioned whether it would result in a custody situation that is actually in the best interests of the child in every case. House Bill 4691 did pass a House committee this year. Given its support from many Michigan residents, and its continued support from Runestad, commentators expect that the issues proposed in this bill are certain to come up again in 2019.

Is a Presumption of 50-50 Shared Physical Custody Best?

Under Michigan law, courts already can award joint physical custody, or shared physical custody. In many cases, courts do make the decision to award 50-50 shared physical custody, but this is not the issue at stake with the proposed legislation.

Rather, the proposed legislation and its supporters want a presumption of 50-50 shared custody. This means that the court would begin from the premise that parents always will share physical custody 50-50 unless there is a reason not to do so (namely, domestic violence). A recent op-ed in The Detroit News suggests that some advocates of House Bill 4691 supported it because they were opposed to one parent being awarded sole physical custody.

However, sole physical custody is not the norm, even under the current Michigan law system. There may be benefits to a presumption of 50-50 shared physical custody, but there are also limitations. For example, parents might live over an hour away from one another, making it extremely difficult for the child to move between homes during the week. Or, one of the parents might have a work schedule that makes it easier for one parent to spend slightly more time with the child. In short, a presumption of 50-50 shared physical custody is not as flexible when it comes to individual family needs after a divorce.

Discuss Your Divorce Case with a Michigan Family Lawyer

Divorce under any circumstances is difficult, but divorce can become especially contentious when there are child custody issues. An experienced divorce attorney in Michigan can speak with you today about your case. Contact the Law Offices of Michael A. Robbins for more information.