Birmingham, Mich. – Oct. 22, 2015 – Terms like “50/50 split” and “you take half and I take half” are often used to reflect fair and equal division of goods, money or time in a variety of situations. It’s the trend toward 50/50 custody of children in divorce cases, and now Michigan HB4141, that is troubling to Jessica Woll, managing partner of Woll & Woll, P.C., a Michigan-based divorce and family law firm with a niche expertise in complex family law issues.
HB4141 would grant joint custody, following divorce, to both parents unless the court determines by clear and convincing evidence that a parent is unfit, unwilling, or unable to care for the child. Woll is concerned that such well-intentioned legislation may ultimately be harmful to children of divorce.
“In the past ten years, I have seen a shift among judges in the tri-county area to declare equal parenting time schedules for children between their divorced parents – and sometimes the consequences are devastating to the children,” Woll said. “While HB4141 sounds fine in theory, and I’m confident the legislation, like the judges in these cases, is well intentioned, I contend that fair does not always mean equal when it comes to parenting time for children of divorce. In reality, fair to the parents may actually be unfair to the child.”
Woll, herself a product of divorce, is known for her advocacy of children in divorce and, notably, for changing the steps the Court must take when determining whether a parent may leave the state with a minor child. In the case of Rittershaus v. Rittershaus, Woll established that a Court must conduct a best-interest analysis when a change of domicile is found to change the established custodial environment of a minor child. (273 Mich. App. 462, 470-471, 730 N.W.2d 262 (2007).
Woll said the goal in custody cases is to remain child-centric throughout the custody determination process and HB4141 may not help accomplish this goal.
“There are a list of potentially damaging issues that can occur with a 50/50 parenting time schedule, including the challenges for children of creating a home in two different dwellings, the need for a child to spend more time with a particular parent based on age and developmental stages, or the simple matter of logistics for working parents. If the goal is raising emotionally healthy children, which it should be, the chief consideration is whether spending equal time in each parent’s household favors the parents rather than serving the best interests of the child.”
Woll said when she began practicing divorce and family law in 1994, the tide had turned from giving mothers full custody and fathers visitation rights.
“The shift away from considering the mother as the custodial parent was a logical extension of the overarching changes in women’s and men’s roles in society at that time, where more women entered the workforce and fathers began playing a larger role in hands-on co-parenting and child rearing,” Woll said. “But custody decisions should not be based on a parent’s gender; I believe the 50/50 custody trend and HB4141 are based, at least in part, on gender rather than what’s in the best interest of the child.”
Woll recalls a father who had sole custody of his daughter following a divorce. When the daughter was 15, she demanded to live with her mother and the father allowed it.
“It’s not unusual, especially in the teen years, for a child to want to live with the other parent. In this case, the daughter lived with her mother until she was 18 and then returned to her father, with whom she had maintained a healthy and happy relationship, even while living with her mother,” Woll said. “To me, this reflects the changes that children go through in their normal developmental stages. At some of those stages, equal or even shared parenting does not meet the changing needs of the child.”
Click here to learn more about Michigan HB4141.
About Woll & Woll, P.C.
Established in 1994, Woll & Woll, P.C. specializes in divorce and family law, including legal separation, post-judgment of divorce matters, removal of domicile actions, stepparent adoption, custody, child support, paternity and other family issues. Learn more at http://www.wollandwollpc.com.