Sex Offender Law & Divorce in Michigan

By Mary Jane Freeman

Michigan takes sex offenders and sex crimes very seriously, especially when they involve children. Harsh prison sentences are routinely handed out as well as mandatory registration on the state's sex offender registry, which is available online and searchable by the public. If a sex offender has children, his parental rights can even be terminated, especially if the sexual abuse involved the child or was witnessed by him. If your spouse sexually abused you, your child or anyone else and you're filing for divorce, you can request sole custody of your child and protection orders from the court.

Sex Offender Laws

Under Michigan law, sexual abuse is considered a form of domestic violence when it involves family members; it can be perpetrated against adults and children alike. Sexual abuse can encompass a variety of acts, from inappropriate touching to forced sex. If a person is found guilty of sexual assault, the penalty imposed is based on the degree of contact and circumstances of the case, including age of the victim and whether victim and perpetrator are members of the same household. If charged and found guilty, perpetrators can be convicted of a fourth degree misdemeanor up to first degree felony and receive a punishment ranging from a $500 fine to life imprisonment. Additionally, if the crime is severe enough, the offender will be placed on Michigan's Sexual Offender Registry, which is public and available online. It lists everything from the offender's name, photo and registered offense to his last known address.


If you or your child is a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of your spouse, the court will take this under consideration when awarding custody and visitation. However, before you get to this point in the process, you may request temporary orders from the court. These are orders that remain in effect during the course of your divorce proceedings, until permanent orders are issued by the court with the final divorce decree. Temporary orders can cover everything from spousal support to child custody. Since your case involves domestic violence, you can even pursue a personal protection order, or PPO, which aims to protect you or your child from personal injury by preventing or limiting your spouse's contact. While temporary orders end when the divorce is finalized, PPOs can remain in effect. You may request any of these orders by submitting a motion to the court with your divorce petition or shortly after. Once received, the court will hold a hearing on the matter.

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Types of Custody

Michigan recognizes both legal and physical custody. Legal custody represents a parent's right to make decisions concerning a child's welfare, such as those involving health care, schooling and religion. Physical custody represents where a child lives. The court may award sole custody, which means one parent has both legal and physical custody of the child. When this happens, the other parent is usually granted parenting time. Joint custody may also be awarded, which can refer to joint legal custody, joint physical custody or a combination of both. Michigan courts typically award a parent sole custody when circumstances suggest this arrangement would be in the child's best interests. It is highly likely the court will award you sole custody based on your spouse's history of sexual abuse, especially if it is documented with physical evidence, such as pictures, medical and psychological records, past restraining orders and criminal convictions.

Best Interests Factors

Michigan courts design custody and parenting time agreements based on what is in the best interests of the child. To reach this decision, the court will evaluate a variety of factors, such as the emotional ties between parents and the child, the child's living environment, mental and physical health of the child and parents, moral fitness of parents, the child's reasonable preference and whether there is any history of domestic violence, either directed at or witnessed by the child. If the court finds your claims of sexual abuse to be truthful based on the evidence provided, the court is likely to find that contact with your spouse is not in your child's best interests and deny both custody and parenting time. Furthermore, if your spouse's past sexual offenses resulted in his name being added to the Sexual Offender Registry, his parental rights may even be terminated.

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