Child custody and guardianship share many similarities. However, they are two different statuses under Michigan law. For Michigan residents, it’s important to understand the key differences between these legal concepts.
Child custody typically refers to the care and custody of a child by one or both parents. Guardianship, on the other hand, deals with situations involving adults other than the parents providing some level of care for a child.
For example, if two parents are seeking a custody determination in court, they would be involved in a custody dispute or determination. However, if the party seeking action from the court regarding a child is not the parents, the issue would be one of guardianship.
Custody and guardianship can also differ in regard to issues of duration, parental rights, and legal authority. A guardianship may be appropriate if the parents are deceased or incapable of making reasonable decisions for the child in question.
There are two categories of child custody in Michigan: physical custody and legal custody.
When a parent lives with a child, they are said to have physical custody of the child. A parent who houses a child temporarily during a visitation also has physical custody.
Legal custody refers to a parent’s authority to make important life decisions in areas that directly impact the child’s life, such as healthcare, education, and religion.
Courts take great care to concentrate on the best interests of the child when determining child custody. The Michigan Child Custody Act sets forth 12 factors judges are to consider when making custody decisions, including:
- The capacity and willingness of each parent to provide love and guidance
- The capacity of each parent to provide food and shelter
- The child’s preference
The court will order joint or sole custody. With sole custody, a parent is solely responsible for the child, but this responsibility is shared if the custody is joint. As circumstances change, custody orders may be modified at the request of one or both parties.
An interested party can file a petition to become a legal guardian of a child, which will allow them to make important life decisions in the best interests of the child. The three types of child guardianships in the state include full, limited, and temporary.
Guardians have many of the powers and responsibilities that a parent normally would. Factors considered for guardianship are also similar to those for custody, such as guardian fitness, and guardianship orders may be modified by the court.
Other types of guardianships include guardian of the estate and guardian of the person, where the ward is a developmentally disabled person.
When deciding on custody vs. guardianship, the courts will take into account how their decisions affect areas such as child support and visitation. Judges want to know how their potential rulings affect current custody agreements and other orders in place. They even consider how their decision might affect grandparents’ visitation.
Whether you are facing custody or guardianship matters, seeking legal advice is vital. The dedicated team of The Smith Law Offices, P.C. has served Michigan families since 2010. To protect the best interests of you and your family, contact our office for guidance from an experienced Ann Arbor family law attorney today.