Are Reasons for a Divorce Taken Into Account in a Custody Hearing in Michigan?

by Mark Vansetti
Marital misconduct may affect custody issues in Michigan.

Marital misconduct may affect custody issues in Michigan.

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Michigan law regarding divorce indicates that a spouse can request a divorce as long as there has been a breakdown in the marriage. The reason why there has been a breakdown in the marriage is not relevant and, in fact, the spouse seeking the divorce may not even infer that her partner has done anything wrong. Placing the blame is not allowed when filing for divorce in Michigan. However, when a judge considers what will happen to the children after the divorce, the behavior of one or both parents may affect the judge's order for parenting time. In short, while wrongdoing will not affect a spouse's ability to obtain a divorce, wrongdoing may affect custody.

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No-Fault Divorce

Michigan is a pure no-fault divorce state. This means that the only ground for divorce is a breakdown of the marriage and it does not matter who is at fault. Therefore, under Michigan law, the only thing that can be alleged is that there was a breakdown of the marriage to the extent that it cannot be repaired. It is not necessary to prove that the other spouse did something wrong to obtain a divorce. In fact, even inferring that the other spouse did something wrong is prohibited.

Language in Complaint

Under Michigan law, the spouse wishing to be divorced must file a complaint for divorce with the court. The spouse must include specific language regarding the breakdown of the marriage: “that there has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.” The law prohibits the spouse from including any other language regarding the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage in the complaint.

Best Interests of the Child

Marital misconduct, or any reason why a spouse wanted a divorce, is not relevant when filing for divorce, but it may be relevant when the court considers child custody. Michigan law requires the court to consider the best interests of the child. The court does so by reviewing various factors, some of which would be affected by marital misconduct. The court will consider the child's emotional ties with the parents, the parent's capacity to provide love, affection and guidance as well as the child's preference. The court will also consider the parent's capacity to provide food, clothing and medical care. Additionally, the court will look at the length of time the child has lived in a stable place and the permanence of the custodial home, as well as the home, school and community record of the child. The court will assess the moral fitness of both parties, the mental and physical health of the parties, whether there is a history of domestic violence, and any other factor that the court considers relevant.

Judge's Custody Decision

Factors such as the moral fitness of the parties and whether there has been domestic violence are examples of child custody factors where reasons for divorce may be considered. For example, the judge may view a spouse that has a serious gambling problem or has been convicted of a crime to have poor moral fitness. In this case, the judge may award more parenting time based on these circumstances, not to punish the offending parent, but because a particular child custody arrangement would be in the best interest of the child.