What is in the “best interests of the child?” The Child Custody Act provides that custody of a child is to be determined by the “best interests of the child” standard which means the sum total of the following factors to be considered, evaluated and determined by the court. Answering the questionnaire below will give you insight into the specific questions courts ask to determine which parent (or both) should be granted custody. Feel free to download this questionnaire, and where appropriate, just write “Mom,” “Dad,” or “both” next to the questions, based on who does it MOST of the time:
The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child
- Who gets the child breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
- What are your child’s favorite foods, TV programs, stories, etc.?
- How would you describe the child’s relationship with you? With the other party?
- How has the child been affected by the marital separation?
- How would you go about correcting this?
- Do you feel the bond and ties to the child are about equal between you and the other party?
- Do you feel the bond is closer to you, and why?
- How does your child know that you love him/her? What will your child say about this, if asked?
- Which of you is more apt to hear about your child’s problem, triumphs, adventures (i.e. comfort needed for a skinned knee, joy shared with a home run hit)?
The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and continuation of any educating and raising of the child in its religion or creed, if any:
- Who feeds the child?
- Who bathes/dresses the child?
- Who stays home from work when the child is sick? Why is it that this person stays home (work schedule flexibility, sick days easier to get off, etc.)?
- Who arranged for nursery school enrollment/religious education?
- How are these decisions made with the other party?
- Who puts the child to bed?
- How do you teach your child manners? How does the other party?
- How do you discipline the child? How does the other party?
- Describe a typical day with your child.
- What is each party’s present religious practice?
- How does each party handle any fears manifested by the child if they become aware of such?
- What are the positive and negative points of each party’s parenting skills as you see them?
- How do you show your child love and affection?
- Is there anything about yourself that affects your ability to give love, affection, and guidance? How about the other party?
- What kinds of activities do you share with the child; how much tine is spent; how much involvement in the child’s school and extracurricular activities do you spend? How much time does the other party spend?
- What are the rules of the home; how is discipline handled; and do you and the other party agree/disagree and what form of discipline is used?
- How is each party’s ability to discipline themselves; who comes first, the parent or the child?
The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs:
- Who purchases the child’s clothes, toys, and other equipment?
- Who arranges for and takes the child to doctor/dentist appointments?
- Who arranges for the babysitter/child care?
- Are there any special needs of the child (medical, educational, speech, etc.)?
- What is being done about these special needs and which party is attending to this? Who is better able to deal with this?
- How well do you manage money?
- How well do you feel the other party manages money?
- What is the earning capacity of each party? If employed, what arrangements have been made for when the child is not in school?
The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity:
- Describe the present custodial home?
- Describe the proposed custodial home (i.e. Is it in the same geographic location? How will a move affect a child?)
- Who sleeps where in each home?
- What is the address of the custodial home; the length of time in the home; and who lives there?
- Give an explanation of residential changes, if any.
- How has the child adjusted to changes of residences?
- Is the current home environment safe/stable for the child?
- Which home will provide the child with the most love, affection, guidance, moral and spiritual training, educational and fulfillment opportunities?
- Where do the child’s friends and relatives reside?
The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes
- What is the child’s relationship to other siblings?
- What is the child’s relationship with the parents?
- What future home is proposed by the petitioning party, and what future relationships would that involve?
- Do you have any immediate prospects of remarriage or a continuing relationship with a person who will be significant in the life of the child? If so, describe that person’s relationship with the child and how this relationship may effect the factors in the Child Custody Act.
The moral fitness of the parties involved
- Has there been any drug and/or alcohol involvement by either party or stepparents? If so, how much; what treatment has been sought; and what has that individual’s response been to that treatment?
- Are there any romantic liaisons by either party? If so, what has the effect of said liaisons been on the child?
- Is foul language used by either party in front of the child? If so, what effect has said language been on the child?
- What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses or your moral beliefs? What are the other party’s strength and weaknesses or moral beliefs?
- Have there been any allegations of physical or sexual abuse of this child or any other children by any party to this action? Have these allegations been confirmed?
- Have there been any allegations of spousal abuse by any party to this action? Have these allegations been confirmed?
- Does either party have a driving record (excessive violations, DUIL’s, or reckless and/or careless driving convictions)?
- What has the child’s exposure to moral issues been and what has the child’s response been to the same?
The mental and physical health of the parties involved
- State the physical health, any chronic illness or medicine taken regularly of all parties to this action
- State the mental health history, marriage counseling or hospitalizations of all parties to this action.
- Are any mental/emotional health problems related to divorce/custody disputes or to long-term instability.
The home, school, and community record of the child
- What school does the child attend?
- What is the attendance record of the child?
- What is the academic record of the child?
- What is the child’s attitude towards school?
- In what extracurricular activities does the child participate? What is the parents’ involvement in these activities, if any?
- What are the child’s responsibilities at home (cleans room, does dishes, mows grass, etc.)? What is the parent’s involvement in the child’s responsibilities?
- Does the child have any juvenile or other agency involvement?
- Does the child have close relationship with friends in the area?
The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference
- Do you feel the child has a preference?
- How do you feel the child would react if a change in custody is granted?
- Why does the other party want this change of custody?
- Why don’t you want this change of custody?
The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent
- What is your proposed visitation schedule?
- Do you talk about the other parent in front of the child? If so, in what manner?
- How do you and the other party get along with each other?
Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child
- Has either parent physically threatened the other?
- Has either parent struck the other?
- Did the child witness or hear these threats of assaults?
- Other than appropriate discipline, has either parent struck the child?
Any other factors considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute
- Are you aware of the availability of joint custody?
- What is your understanding of joint custody?
- Are there any other questions not covered in the previous factors that you deem necessary and have not answered previously?
- Are there any other factors with reference to your spouse which you believe should be emphasized to the court which may affect the court’s decision? A list of factors which judges sometimes consider are as follows:
- Occasional acts of adultery committed prior to separation
- Occasional acts of adultery committed after separation.
- An ongoing affair that continues at this time.
- Living with a member of the opposite sex and intention to continue without getting married.
- Occasional acts of homosexuality.
- A “practicing” homosexual or bi-sexual.
- Sexual promiscuity.
- Engages in “kinky” sex.
- Conviction of a serious crime.
- Gambling-occasional, moderate stakes.
- Gambling-frequent, high stakes.
- Regular church attendance.
- Spouse’s moral values.
- Objectionable business practices.
- Objectionable social practices.
- “Marital misbehavior” such as verbal abuse, belittling spouse in public, etc.
- Nature of party’s personality (volatile, stable, etc.)
- Mental disease such as manic-depression or schizophrenia which cannot be controlled by medication and/or counseling
- Spouse is Neurotic
- Serious physical disease (heart problems, cancer, etc.)
- Physical handicap.
- Alcohol abuse, drug abuse.
- Educational attainment.
- Status in community.
- Any other factors which you believe may be important.
- As to each of the categories above, what would your spouse say about you? State why you believe it will or will not be important for the court to consider those factors.
- List the five best things your spouse might be able to say about you concerning your parenting abilities and your relationship with your child.
- List the five worst things your spouse might be able to say about you concerning your parenting abilities and your relationship with your child.
- List the five best things you are able to say about your spouse concerning his/her parenting abilities and his/her relationship with the child.
(Special thanks to Referee Mark Sherbow of Oakland County Family Court for this information.)