In Michigan the law presumes it is in the child's best interests to have a strong relationship with both parents. What does that mean? The language seems firm and clear, likely to lead to good decisions and outcomes. Despite this firm language the presumption rarely seems to successfully translate into a physical custody arrangement that truly mirrors the best interests of the children. Why is that? Well while the presumption is an important one, it is one that actually invites biases rather than helps dispel them. We all know that biases die hard. All too often the custody arrangement outcomes are based on biases and are too easily shielded or justified by the very presumption.
I cited an example in my previous blog of a Jewish parent being awarded Christmas Eve Night and Christmas Day (over the Christian parent) by a parenting coordinator claiming it was in the best interests of the children because that's who the children spent Christmas Eve Night and Christmas Day with the prior couple of years. Well the only reason that occurred was because the Jewish parent (also the bully-parent) refused to alternate or properly share Christmas in the preceding years. In the end, the bully-parent's bad behavior was rewarded by this parenting coordinator. How is rewarding bad parenting behavior in the best interests of the children? It's not.
Before the parents were separated/divorced, the family, specifically the children, spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the Christian parent's extended family, celebrating the holiday as it is intended - recognizing the birth of Jesus Christ, going to church, exchanging Christmas presents and other common traditions.
At a minimum mediators and parenting coordinators must strive to facilitate agreements between the parents using a common or shared interest approach. If this is not easily accomplished, applying a basic method of equality is a good starting point. For instance a shared 50/50 time and alternating holiday split. Then, if other special considerations are needed, looking to principles of equity can help sift through things like religious differences or job demands when determining how to divide and share time and holidays. Under no circumstances, at least none that I have seen or can imagine, is it ever in the best interests of the child to reward a parent for bad behavior, past or present.
Feel free to contact me with any questions on this or other legal topics.
Lisa J. Peterson is an attorney and mediator in Ann Arbor, MI.