Michigan Starts Fathers at Disadvantage in Custody Cases

When a child is born to a man and a woman, the man and woman have equal rights to the child. If the man and woman separate, all else being equal, they are entitled to equal rights to the child and they should receive those rights in the form of a judgment awardingjoint physical and legal custody. With joint physical and legal custody, the parties share the child as equally as possible in the best interests of the child.

If the parties separate and the father moves out of the house, the honorable father will make arrangements for payment of child support. Sometimes this is done through the Friend of the Court. What happens to the father who takes this honorable step can be tragic. In Michigan, if a father calls the Friend of the Court to make arrangements for child support, the case is referred to the prosecuting attorney who will submit a Judgment of Support and Uniform Support Order for entry with the court. The father is now the defendant in the case with the plaintiff being the mother represented by the prosecutor. The Judgment of Support will include provisions for custody, domicile, parenting time and child support. The most notable and shocking provision is the provision for custody, which without any subjective consideration but merely as a matter of protocol, grants sole physical custody of the minor children to the mother. Furthermore, no parenting time is granted to the father, but rather this is left up to the parties to agree and if help is needed, the Friend of the Court will conduct an investigation and recommendation. Significantly, the document with all its provisions will be entered by the court unless written objections are filed within 21 days. Now, the honorable father may not understand or for whatever reason, may not object within the requisite time period allowing his disadvantage to become truly disadvantageous.

This protocol of granting sole physical custody to the mother flies in the face of clear law that it is in the best interests of the child to have a strong relationship with both parents. Granted, the tables could be turned in that the mother could move out and she could be the one making arrangements for child support thereby causing the promulgation of a Judgment of Support granting sole physical custody of the children to the father. In the majority of the cases however, it is not the mother, but the father who is making the request. The unwitting father may allow the order to enter and later find himself fighting unnecessarily for custody and parenting time, which he, all else being equal, should have had to begin with.

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