CASS COUNTY FRIEND OF THE COURT: What are best interest factors?

Published 2:10 pm Friday, October 8, 2021

During a child custody proceeding, a court is required to determine legal and physical custody of a child based on what is in the child’s best interest.  As part of this determination, the court will look at things such as what the child’s established custodial environment is and the best interest factors.  When looking at what the child’s custodial environment is, the court will look at things like who the child looks to for parental care, discipline, love, guidance, and attention appropriate to his or her age and individual needs. 

After determining the child’s custodial environment, the court will look at the best interests of the child by reviewing a set of factors defined in the Child Custody Act.  These factors are often referred to as the “Best Interest Factors” and are:

Factor (a): The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child;

Factor (b): 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;

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

Factor (d): The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity;

Factor (e): The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes;

Factor (f): The moral fitness of the parties involved;

Factor (g): The mental and physical health of the parties involved;

Factor (h): The home, school, and community record of the child;

Factor (i): The reasonable preference of the child, if the judge considers the child to be old enough to express a preference;

Factor (j): 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. A judge may not consider negatively for the purposes of this factor any reasonable action taken by a parent to protect a child or that parent from sexual assault or domestic violence by the child’s other parent;

Factor (k): Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child;

Factor (l): Any other factor considered by the judge to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

In a custody proceeding, the court must review and evaluate each of one these factors and indicate its reasons for granting or denying a custody request.  A court’s determination on each factor will be specifically driven by the facts presented for that case.  This means that a court could find that a factor favors a parent in one case; yet, that same parent could have another case involving another child and the court may find differently on that case.

Why is it important to know what these factors?  If you are representing yourself in a custody proceeding, you will be held to the same requirements as an attorney during the custody hearing.  You will need to present sufficient evidence for the court to make findings on the best interest factors.  Knowing what they are and that the outcome depends on the facts presented to the court can help you prepare your case and determine what evidence to present.

If you are represented by an attorney, your attorney will organize and present your evidence to the court.  Even so, it is still helpful to understand what the court will be looking for so you can help your attorney gather evidence.  Knowing the best interest factors can also make a custody proceeding less intimidating because you’ll know what the court will be looking for to issue its ruling.

To learn more about child custody proceedings, you can review free legal resources online through Michigan Legal Help at: https://michiganlegalhelp.org

If you have questions about the FOC that you think would be helpful to address in future columns, please send them to the FOC email address:  foc@cassco.org. This article was submitted on behalf of Cass County Friend of the Court.