Shon Cook Law
One of the hardest decisions that we make in our lives is whether to honor our vows and stay married or move out of a relationship that is destructive. It is a decision that is emotional and scarey. Reaching that decision should be done with the proper resources.
If you are at the point that you are contemplating divorce, then things are not good. The decision to divorce usually comes after years of unhappiness, loneliness and grief. If you are thinking about divorce, you are likely thinking about the short-term and long-term consequences for you personally, for your children (if there are any) and for your financial situation. It is scarey and overwhelming. The best way to really prepare yourself to make this decision is to educate yourself about the divorce process and the long term effects.
1. Develop a strong friend or family network. It is incredibly important that you have emotional support and perhaps financial, as you try to cope with the stress of the decision and the actual divorce if you choose that route. You need to have someone you can talk to about your feelings, your fears and what you hope to have happen.
2. Work with a good counselor. When the idea of divorce first comes to mind, talk with a counselor. In some cases, the counselor may be able to come up with ideas and resources that will help your marriage and change things for the better. If that is not possible, the counselor can provide strategies for you to deal with the stress of the situation and advice on how to tell your spouse, your family and your children. The counselor may have suggestions on counseling for your children to minimize the impact.
3. Learn your financial picture. Find out about all bank accounts, assets, debts and budgets. Know what it takes to keep your household going monthly and start to think about what it would cost to live without the support of your spouse.
4. Talk with a good attorney before you make the decision. Actually talk with several attorneys. Make a list of questions. Come armed with accurate financial information. Find an attorney that will take time to explain the process and potential outcomes. Make sure you are clear about your concerns and questions.
5. Unless you are faced with immediate harm or emergency circumstances, take your time to think through the options and consequences.
I know it is very hard to think about divorce. It is also very hard to go through a divorce and get to the other side. Making an educated decision about your next step will give you the ability to make the correct decision for yourself and your family.
Shon A. Cook
More and more grandparents are faced with raising their grandchildren. What are the rights of grandparents who are going it alone, without the emotional or financial support of the biological parents? The following are some options:
If a parent leaves a child in the home of a grandparent for an extended period of time, without any legal authority (ex power of attorney), then a grandparent can petition the Court for a guardianship to assume legal authority over the child. The guardianship can be temporary, limited or full. A temporary guardianship is for a short duration and usually for emergency purposes before a court hearing can be held. A limited guardianship is based on conditions that a parent must meet or a designated reason or time frame. When the conditions are met, the guardianship is terminated. If the conditions are not met, the Court may terminate the rights of the parent. A full guardianship is without conditions and may only be terminated if the parent can establish it is in the best interests of the child to be returned to the parents. A guardianship also allows for a grandparent to pursue child support.
If a grandparent has secured a full or limited guardianship, they can pursue custody. Custody provides a more permanent role for the grandparent in the life of the child. It insures that the grandparent can still have legal authority and continued contact with the child. It also provides a mechanism to go back to Court if problems exist relating to the parent’s conduct and behavior. For a grandparent to be successful in a custody battle, he/she must be able to show by clear and convincing evidence it is in the child’s best interest for custody to go with the grandparent. In the State of Michigan, the parents have a strong parental presumption. A grandparent may also intervene in an ongoing child custody dispute (neglect, divorce, paternity or custody). The filing of a custody action stays a guardianship proceeding.
3. Grandparent Visitation
This law has been virtually gutted in Michigan. However, there are still some avenues. If there is a pending child custody dispute a grandparent can file a motion and ask for visitation. If both parents of the child sign an affidavit stating that they do not want the grandparent to have visitation, the grandparent is done. If either one of the parents is fit, then the grandparent must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the failure to allow grandparenting visitation creates physical, emotional or mental harm to the child. If the grandparent can overcome that hurdle, the grandparent must then show by a preponderance of the evidence it is in the best interests of the child to have visitaiton with the grandparent.
4. Neglect actions
If a parent has had a petition filed for neglect/abuse of a child, a grandparent can contact DHS and ask for placement of the child while the matter is pending. If the case proceeds to termination, the grandparents can seek to adopt the child and gain consent of the Court or the Michigan Children’s Institute with the State of Michigan.
Grandparent’s rights still exist in the State of Michigan, but an educated and experience attorney needs to be involved to navigate the various courts and agencies.
Obtaining legal rights for an unmarried father in Michigan is not as simple as being on the birth certificate. An unwed father must prove to a Judge he is the father before he can be given any rights to custody or parenting time.
When a child is born out of wedlock (the parties are not married at the time of conception or at the time of birth), a Court must decide who the father is. Often, the father is not present at the birth of the child. The mother can select any name she chooses to put on the birth certificate. While the birth certificate is an official record that is kept with the state, it is not the official determination of who the legal father is. When the father is at the hospital at the time of birth, the father is often asked to sign an affidavit of parentage. This affidavit provides that the person who signs the document is the father of the child and that the MOTHER IS PRESUMED TO HAVE CUSTODY OF THE CHILD, until there is a different judicial determination. While this document can be used to support a basis for the filing of a Court action to establish legal fatherhood, it is not a determination of the legal father by the Court, and provides no rights to the father for custody or visitation.
If a father wishes to be the “legal father,” he must file an original action with the Court and request to be determined the father and establish custody, parenting time and support. This is difficult to do without an attorney. When the mother is receiving any government assistance for the child, the State of Michigan will usually file an action for child support against the father to establish child support only. The father can not request custody or parenting time in this action and must file a separate motion or case to be considered for custody or parenting time. It is not unusual for a father to be paying support, yet have no legal rights to see his child.
If an unwed father wishes to obtain rights to have contact with his child, it is essential that he confer with an attorney immediately. Since the mother is presumed to have custody, it takes time and effort to convince the Court to have the father involved and to move into parenting time and a custodial relationship witht the child. The longer the father waits, the harder it is to have a relationship with his child.
Friend of the Court is an administrative agency that is heavily involved in all family law cases involving minor children, but few people know who they are, or what they do before they step through the door of their office for the first time. Just whose friend are they, whose best interest are they looking out for, and why do I need to talk to them at all? These might be just a few of the questions you have if you’re facing a family law matter for the first time, which can be one of the most uncertain and traumatic events in life. Hopefully the information below takes away some of that uncertainty, however, feel free to contact our office if you have any further questions.
Some people ask whether they have to bother with Friend of the Court, and the quick answer is YES. Friend of the Court gets involved right off the bat with all cases involving minor children to help deal with any issues pertaining to the children’s health, safety, custody, child support, and parenting time. They are a neutral third party that works with the Family Court system to resolve issues in the best interests of the children. In the event of a divorce, Friend of the Court will schedule what is called a Conciliation Conference with the parties within 30 days of filing the Complaint. This is just a fancy term for mediation, where they attempt to talk with both parties, and see if there is any middle ground they can agree on. Typically, this conference can last anywhere from 1 to 4 hours, depending on the parties. If the parties agree on all issues regarding the children, then Friend of the Court will draft an Order, and that will be binding on the parties. If the parties cannot agree, then Friend of the Court will draft a recommendation, to be signed by the Judge, which will also be binding. It is important to note that the decisions made by Friend of the Court must be followed. If you are unsure about the recommendation, do not sign anything at the Friend of the Court, and consult an attorney.
Friend of the Court operates a little differently in every county, but rest assured, their job is to safeguard the children and work with both parties to resolve differences in an agreeable manner. In the event that both parties are still unable to come to a resolution, then whatever issues are left proceed to the Court system.