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I’m a divorcing father. What are my child custody rights?

Child custody looks different from state to state, but regardless of location most people assume custody will be awarded to the mother in a divorce. What rights do fathers have in the custody process?

In Michigan, the answer is plenty. The Child Custody Act of 1970 states that parents are to be advised of joint custody by the courts. The language of the law is purposefully gender-neutral and does not favor the mother or the father. There are several factors the court reviews to determine the best interest of the child. While the moral fitness and mental and physical health of all parties are considered, genders are not.

Legal custody vs. physical custody

When awarding custody, the judge will determine physical custody, or who the child resides with. Joint physical custody means there are specific times when each parent is allowed to have the child with them. This may be a court-ordered schedule for when the child resides with each parent or an order for parents to share physical custody in a manner that assures continued contact between the child and both parents.

When a child resides with a parent, that parent gets to make the decisions about all routine matters for said child. The exception is if the judge has awarded joint legal custody – in that case, decision-making authority is shared by both parents, regardless of where the child resides. Parents can be awarded joint physical and legal custody, sharing residency and decision-making responsibility for the child equally.

Your rights as a father in child custody are no more or less equal than a mother. You can assert those rights in family court with the help of an experienced family law attorney who can advocate for you in court if necessary.