What if after my divorce is final I want to change the custody arrangement for my children?
Michigan statutes provide as follows:
The court shall not modify or amend its previous judgments or orders or issue a new order so as to change the established custodial environment of a child unless there is presented clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of the child. The custodial environment of a child is established if over an appreciable time the child naturally looks to the custodian in that environment for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort. The age of the child, the physical environment, and the inclination of the custodian and the child as to permanency of the relationship shall also be considered.
During the initial divorce or custody proceedings, the court uses a “preponderance of the evidence” standard in determining who will prevail. This is something like 51% of the evidence in favor of the party seeking custody. Before a court will consider changing custody, a party must allege and prove either that there is “proper cause” for a change or that there is a “change in circumstances,” meaning something more than a minimal or insignificant change.
Then, if a party meets the threshold for changing custody by showing a change in circumstances or proper cause, that party must meet a higher burden or proof known as “clear and convincing.” This is more like 75% of the factors favoring the party seeking custody. In a nutshell, it is a big mistake to settle for one form of custody believing you can just wait for a while and then petition for a change without many of the facts also changing.
The Legislature has concluded that stability for children is an important goal. As a result, it is very hard to change custody once it has been established.