In Michigan, the term “child custody” really means two things: physical custody and legal custody. Physical child custody is what most of us mean when we talk about determining custody — where the children will live after the parents get divorced. Will the parents share custody, or will the kids live with one parent full-time and have short, regular parenting time visits with their other parent?
A parent’s right to help make decisions
Determining physical custody is important, but it is not the end of the custody matter. There is also legal custody, which is the right as a parent to help make important decisions about their child’s upbringing. Legal custody is not about things like the children’s bedtimes or if they are allowed to eat sugary cereal for breakfast. Instead, legal custody refers to the right to decide matters like who the children’s pediatrician will be, what religion they will be brought up in, and where they will go to school.
Usually, divorced parents share legal custody, even if they do not share physical custody. Thus, when the custodial parent wants to move and transfer the kids into a new school district, the noncustodial parent may have the right to reject the move. This is also the case when the parents share joint physical custody. And if you are moving out of state, you must get the court’s permission, no matter what custody arrangement you have.
What matters most in any custody relocation dispute
Each parent may have reasonable positions for supporting or opposing relocation to a new school district. But ultimately, the most important factor under state custody law is the children’s best interests.
Weighing their best interests depends on their particular circumstances and needs. Will moving make arranging parenting time more difficult? Are the schools in the new district better suited to your child’s educational needs? Would moving improve the child’s economic position (i.e., would the custodial parent be moving for a higher-paying job)? Would it take them away from family and friends?
Reasonable parents, along with their attorneys, can work out a solution that best serves their children’s needs without sacrificing their continued presence in the kids’ lives.