Proposed Changes to Child Custody Law

Representative Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) and six other legislators have introduced House Bill 4691 which will fundamentally change the current child custody act – something long overdue – with the goal of leveling the playing field in custody disputes.

Under the proposed law, there would be a presumption of joint legal custody and also a presumption of “substantially equal parenting time.” (A fact assumed to be true under the law is called a presumption) Essentially this means that parents divorcing or separating would, absent exceptional circumstances such as domestic violence, be granted joint legal custody and substantially equal parenting time. “Substantially equal parenting time” is then defined under the new bill as a parenting time schedule where one of the parents cannot have more than 200 overnights in a given year, and the other parent would have at least 165 overnights with the children.

Among the important changes:

  • Changes the name of the Act to the Michigan Shared Parenting Act.
  • Revises the factors that constitute “best interests of the child.”
  • Creates a presumption of joint legal custody and substantially equal parenting time and defines those terms.
  • With some exceptions, requires a court to grant joint legal custody and substantially equal parenting time.
  • Requires a “clear and convincing” standard of proof to rebut a presumption of established custodial environment or to demonstrate why joint legal custody or substantially equal parenting time should not be granted.
  • Requires, instead of allows, a court to consider certain factors when determining parenting time orders.
  • For a child at least 16 years of age, gives predominant weight to the child’s preference.
  • Prohibits a parent from changing a child’s residence over 40 miles (instead of 100) from the child’s residence or school unless a court finds that the 40-mile distance negatively impacts the child’s access to parenting time and the child’s involvement in support groups and extracurricular activities.

Recently, Representative Runestad told 1800Divorce partner, Bert Tiger Whitehead IV “it is simply crazy to divorce one parent from the children” which is exactly what the current system tends to promote. “The party with the most money and the most resources can simply outspend the other into giving up this important, substantial right and this law tries to level that playing field”.   We couldn’t agree with Representative Runestad more.

We encourage you to join us supporting Representative Runestad at a public hearing for HB 4691 in Canton, Michigan on August 22, 2017