Thursday, December 13, 2012
Written by Family Law Lawyer Amanda Chapman
Let’s face it – it’s no surprise that emotions run high during a divorce where custody of the children is at issue. With divorce comes uncertainty, and uncertainty regarding where your children will live, and with whom, is a nightmare for most parents.
Sometimes, when in the midst of doing battle for those that we hold most dear, we think in terms of winning “at any cost.” But be wary if you find yourself contemplating such thoughts – you may do yourself more harm than good.
To illustrate the point, a recent unpublished Michigan Court of Appeals opinion, Henry. Henry (decided December 22, 2011) involved a divorcing couple, Christine and Doug, and their six children. The parents were both battling for custody of the children, which resulted in a trial held in Wayne Circuit Court. The trial court was required to contemplate the statutory “best interests” factors, which include making a determination as to the “moral fitness of the parties involved.”
In weighing the “moral fitness” best interest factor, a trial court must determine a party’s fitness as a parent, looking to the parent-child relationship and how that parent’s conduct affects that relationship. In the Henry divorce, the trial court heard testimony from various individuals who suggested that Christine had filed false reports [involving issues of possible child abuse or neglect] with several professionals and agencies. Ultimately, the trial court did not find Christine’s testimony credible, as the court weighed more heavily in favor of witness testimony which supported Doug’s claims that the reports were “inaccurate, manipulative, and designed to force additional investigations.
The court, in evaluating the “moral fitness” best interest factor, must determine the effect of a parent’s conduct on the relationship with their child. In this instance, the trial court deemed this factor to weigh in favor of Doug, determining that Christine’s false reports to various agencies “could have a negative effect on the children.” The Court of Appeals, in reviewing the trial court’s decision, deferred to the trial court, as this was ultimately an issue of credibility.
The moral of this story: don’t make false claims against the other parent in an effort to make them look bad in your custody case. Not only does it waste precious resources for those who need protection, but it might ruin your credibility in the eyes of the Court.