Family Law, Child Custody and Visitation Information

Child custody can be a complicated and sometimes confusing issue for parents in the process of separation or divorce. Grand Rapids family law attorney Jason Jansma offers parents years of experience and a reputation for excellence in family law, child custody, and visitation cases.

If you are in need of legal services, we can make the most of your initial consultation if you review the basics of child custody before speaking with a family law attorney. The following information provides and overview of family law, child custody, and visitation as it relates to separation and divorce for Grand Rapids-area parents. Our team is happy to answer any questions you make have regarding this information and your particular child custody case. To speak with a Grand Rapids family law attorney, please call our office at (616)233-9162 or e-mail us at [email protected]


Physical and Legal Child Custody

There are two main types of child custody: physical and legal. Physical custody is defined as the parent who actually has the children living with them. Physical custody may involve a number of different types of custody arrangements, discussed in the next paragraph. Legal custody is the ability to make decisions regarding the child’s medical treatment and educational development, along with many other day-to-day decisions that may affect the child. Legal custody is often joint, which means that the parents share equally in the decision-making process. Although legal custody can also be sole, sole custody more typically involves the physical custody of the children.

Sole, Joint, and Split Child Custody

Sole custody occurs when the child resides with one parent on a regular basis and the other parent receives parenting time with the child. Visitation typically takes place on alternating weekends and holidays. Alternatively, in a joint custody arrangement the parents divide their time with the child equally. Visitation is usually accomplished by alternating weeks with the child. Finally, split custody occurs when there is more than one child involved in a custody arrangement. In this particular situation one child resides with one parent and the other child resides with the other parent. 

Child Custody and the Courts

Before deciding the issue of custody a court must first determine if there is an established custodial environment with either parent. There is an established custodial environment if over an appreciable period of time the child naturally looks to the custodian in that environment. In determining if there is an established custodial environment with one or both parents the court will also look to
• The age of the child
• The physical environment
• The inclination of the custodian and the child as to the permanency of the relationship

If a court finds that there is an established custodial environment with one of the parents, the moving party must present clear and convincing evidence that a change of custody is in the best interest of the minor child or children. If it is determined that no established custodial environment exists, the burden of proof is a showing by the preponderance of the evidence that the proposed custodial arrangement is in the best interest of the minor child.

The Twelve-Factor Test

Courts apply the following twelve factor test to determine if the proposed custodial arrangement is in the best interest of the minor child.

(1) The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child. This factor focuses on the emotional bond that already exists between the parent and the child.

(2) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any. This factor tries to project the parent’s ability to foster an emotional bond in the future, and the parent’s impact on such matters as education, guidance, and religious training.

(3) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.

(4) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs.

(5) The permanence as a family unit of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes. This factor is entirely focused on the permanence of the family environment, not the acceptability of the home or the childcare arrangements.

(6) The moral fitness of the parties involved. Under this factor the court evaluates the parties’ moral fitness only as it relates to how they will function as a parent and not as to who is the morally superior adult.

(7) The mental and physical health of the parties involved.

(8) The home, school, and community record of the child.

(9) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference. Typically when a child is twelve to thirteen the court will consider a child’s preference in determining what the court believes to be the appropriate custody arrangement.

(10) The willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parents. In the case of a divorce if there has been a temporary order implemented and one parent has continually disregarded the order and failed to comply with parenting time schedules then the other party will likely be favored under this factor. Judges often times emphasize the importance of parents fostering a positive relationship with the other parent and do not look kindly on parties who speak negatively of the other party to their children.

(11) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.

(12) Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

The Importance of Finding an Attorney Familiar with West Michigan Family Law Judges

The twelve-factor child custody test is used by all family law judges in the State of Michigan. However, because every judge weighs these factors differently, it is important to have a family law attorney who is familiar with the judge assigned to your separation, divorce or custody case. You can call our office at (616)233-9162 to speak to a West Michigan family law attorney who is familiar with the family law judges in all West Michigan courts.


For a free consultation with a West Michigan criminal attorney or family law attorney
give us a call at (616)233-9162 or e-mail us at [email protected]

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