Parents in Michigan may be awarded different types of custody. Physical custody determines with whom the child lives most of the time, while legal custody recognizes a parent's parental rights. A parent with legal custody has the right to participate in and make major decisions for his child. The court may split these two forms of custody between both parents or award custody to one parent. A father with sole physical custody has the right to have the child live with him at all times, whereas a father with sole legal custody may make decisions for his child without the consent of the other parent. If a father has joint physical custody, the child lives at the homes of both parents. Living schedules vary; for example, the child may live with one parent during school and the other parent over the summer, or she may alternate homes every other week. A father who shares legal custody with the mother can't make major decisions for the child alone; both parents have the right to make the decisions for the child.
A father who doesn't have any legal or physical custody of his child in Michigan still has the right to see his child unless his parental rights have been terminated. A court may terminate parental rights—a parent's legal right to participate in the life of his child—in cases where a parent has abused the child or is deemed unfit. Only a court may remove a parent's right to his child in Michigan.
"Parenting time" in Michigan -- also referred to as "visitation" in other states -- is the time a parent gets with his child. Although parents may deviate from court-ordered parenting-time schedules, a noncustodial father has a right to the parenting time awarded by the court. Michigan courts take various factors under consideration when deciding on parenting time, including the needs of the child, the safety of the environment and whether the father will adhere to the schedule. For example, a father who refuses to return the child to the custodial parent at the end of the scheduled parenting time may lose some of his parenting time. Parenting-time schedules vary. The court may award a less restrictive schedule to accommodate parents who are able to work together. If the parents can't work together, the court may include restrictions or very specific details in the parenting-time order. For example, the court may order a custodial parent have a child ready for visits with his father at a specific time, as lateness cuts into the father's time with his child.
Each of Michigan's family courts have a person, referred to as a "friend of the court," who acts for a family court judge. If a parent fails to honor court-ordered parenting time or custody, the other parent contacts the friend of the court for help. For example, a father who is denied his parenting time by the child's mother can ask the friend of the court for help with enforcement of the parenting time order. The friend of the court will try to settle the problem through discussions or mediation meetings with both parents first. If that doesn't work, the friend of the court may petition the court to modify the order or require that the parents enter mediation. A parent who continues to violate a custody or parenting time order may be found in contempt of court. A first contempt of court conviction can land the uncooperative parent in jail for a maximum of 45 days and result in her license suspension. She may have to pay a maximum fine of $100.