New Laws Focus On Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault

Michigan domestic relations laws will soon address cases of domestic violence and sexual assault, particularly as they relate custody and parenting-time proceedings.

Public Acts 93, 94, 95 and 96 were recently signed into law and go into effect August 1, 2016. Here’s an overview of the new statutes.

Public Act 93

This law amends the Revised Judicature Act (RJA) and prohibits a court, unless it first conducts a hearing to determine whether mediation is appropriate in the child custody or parenting-time case, from submitting a contested issue to mediation if:

  • a personal protection order (PPO) was issued or another order was entered protecting one party and restraining the other party.
  • one or both parties were involved in a child abuse or neglect proceeding.

A court, however, may order mediation in the child custody or parenting time dispute if the protected party asks for it.

The law also requires a domestic relations mediator to inquire whether either party has a history of a coercive or violent relationship with the other party. The mediator must make reasonable efforts to screen for the presence of any coercion or violence that would make mediation “unsafe” for a participant.

Public Act 94

Currently, a person can request a domestic violence PPO under the Revised Judicature Act, to keep the other party from engaging in certain behavior.

Public Act 94 now helps protect the animals of a protected person. The law allows for a PPO to prevent the other party from:

  • injuring, killing, torturing, neglecting, or threatening to injure, kill, torture, or neglect the animal;
  • removing the animal from the protected party’s possession; or
  • retaining or obtaining possession of the animal.

Public Act 95

The Child Custody Act outlines numerous “best interest of the child” factors that courts must consider when deciding custody and parenting time. One of these factors is:

“the willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parent.”

Public Act 95 now says that a court, when evaluating this factor, may not “consider negatively” any reasonable action taken by a parent to protect a child, or himself or herself, from sexual assault or violence by the other parent.

Public Act 96

This law amends the Child Custody Act to prohibit a court from awarding custody or parenting time to a biological parent if the child was conceived as a result of acts for which that parent (the offending parent) was convicted of criminal sexual conduct (CSC), or is found by clear and convincing evidence at a hearing to have committed non-consensual acts of sexual penetration.

Public Act 96 also provides:

  • offending parents are not entitled to custody without the consent of the child’s other parent or guardian.
  • offending parents still have to pay support or maintenance for the child.
  • the non-offending parent can raise, in a custody or parenting time proceeding initiated by the offending parent, the affirmative defense that the child was conceived as the result of CSC or non-consensual sexual penetration.