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Michigan's shared custody bill passes House panel

The presumption many people make is that two parents are better than one -- even when those parents divorce.

Now, a bill that's passed a House panel in Michigan puts that presumption into writing. Unless there are verified reports of domestic violence, Michigan family court judges could soon be required to award joint legal custody in all child custody cases.

This bill would essentially remove the latitude given to family court judges when deciding what is in the best interest of the child in cases where custody is in dispute.

While, in theory, the bill is supported by research saying that shared parenting is best, a lot of judges, employees working in the family court sector, domestic violence advocates and even the State Bar Association oppose the new measure. They say it's taking a "one size fits all" approach to the issue of child custody that's far from sensible when families split up, even if the parents are on reasonably amicable terms.

They make some strong points for their case. A lot of children who have to split their time equally between their parents feel that they don't have a real home of their own.

The bill also presumes that both parents are equally capable and interested in being a parent -- a fact that may not be true, even without domestic violence being an issue.

Having shared custody could actually make it harder for the child to receive consistent care. A parent who works longer hours may have trouble maintaining his or her work schedule or finding appropriate childcare to fit his or her schedule.

The bill also has a huge loophole in it that could enable parents eager to avoid their child support obligations. Child support obligations are calculated based on the number of overnight visits a child has with each parent. Since the new bill would aim for as close to an even split of overnight visits as possible, a parent who is factually disinterested in custody could get the benefit of a lower support payment and simply never actually claim his or her custody time. That would effectively place more (or all) of the financial burden of raising the child on the parent with de facto, or actual, physical custody.

An attorney can provide more information on child custody issues, and help you understand your legal options.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Required joint custody bill passes Michigan House Panel," Kathleen Gray, June 20, 2017

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