When should I hire a lawyer?

It is almost never too early to hire a lawyer if you think you need one. The following are general guidelines for when you might want legal representation in different types of cases:

  • Criminal cases: If the police are questioning you, you have the right to have a lawyer present. They cannot continue to ask you questions once you have told them in clear terms that you want to hire a lawyer.
  • Juvenile cases: Your child also has the right to legal representation in a juvenile case, and to have an attorney present when talking to law enforcement.
  • CPS cases: While CPS cases are not criminal in nature, CPS investigators can be just as assertive and intimidating as the police. You have the right to have an attorney represent you at the start of an investigation.
  • Family cases: Divorce and other family law matters can be complicated and emotional. Having a lawyer at the start of the process can save you many headaches further down the road. Even if you believe that you and your spouse agree on everything in the divorce, a family attorney with knowledge of Michigan's laws and its family court system can guide you through the process.


Criminal Defense

What can a good criminal defense attorney do for me?

A good criminal defense attorney knows Michigan’s criminal laws. They can identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and build strategies for your defense. They can find evidence and arguments that could reduce the severity of the charges against you or even lead to their dismissal. Defense lawyers have experience negotiating with prosecutors and arguing cases to judges and juries.

What will happen to me if I have a felony on my record?

Having a felony criminal record can affect your ability to find a job or lease an apartment. A new Michigan law allows many felony convictions to be expunged, meaning they can be removed from your record. The best approach is still to do everything you can to avoid a felony conviction in the first place.

What will happen to my child if they have a juvenile record?

A juvenile record could impact your child’s life while they are still a child. College admissions offices, for example, often ask about juvenile conviction history. For most purposes, however, Michigan juvenile records are sealed once a child turns 18.

Will a criminal conviction affect my rights in family court? If so, how?

A criminal conviction can affect a family court case, depending on the type of offense involved. One factor that Michigan courts consider when making decisions about child custody is “the moral fitness of the parties involved.” A conviction for a nonviolent offense probably will not affect a custody case, but a violent offense probably will.

If my child has juvenile charges against them, can I be held responsible for their actions?

Michigan law does not hold parents criminally liable for their child’s illegal actions unless the parents were also involved in some way. Parents may, however, be liable for damages caused by the child. If, for example, a child is convicted of vandalism, their parents might have to pay to clean up the damage.


Abuse & Neglect

What do CPS investigators look for?

CPS investigators look for evidence of child abuse or neglect. This could include physical injuries or evidence that a child is lacking necessary care, such as a reasonably clean home with enough food and clothing. They may inspect the child’s home and interview parents, guardians, teachers, doctors, and others.

How long does CPS have to complete its investigation?

CPS must begin an investigation within 24 hours of receiving a report. It has 30 days to complete the investigation, although it can extend that if it can show extenuating circumstances.

Do I have to talk to CPS investigators, or let them into my house?

You have a right to remain silent in CPS investigations in Michigan. In fact, you should say as little as possible until you have hired an attorney.

You do not have to allow a CPS officer into your home unless they have a warrant, but you should remain polite while refusing them entry. You also do not have to allow them to interview your child without a warrant.

What is a Lawyer Guardian Ad Litem, and what do they do?

Once CPS has initiated a legal proceeding, the court will appoint a lawyer, known as a ​​Lawyer Guardian Ad Litem (LGAL), to represent the “best interests” of the allegedly abused or neglected child. The LGAL will conduct their own investigation and make a recommendation about the best plan for the child. They may speak with the child as needed since they are essentially the child’s lawyer.

If the child disagrees with what their LGAL is doing, the LGAL must notify the court that a conflict has arisen. The court will assess whether the child is old and mature enough to decide for themselves, and may appoint another attorney to represent the child.

What are the grounds for terminating parental rights in Michigan?

Michigan law allows a court to terminate a parent’s rights if, after a trial, it finds that the parent has committed certain acts affecting the child, or failed to perform certain duties to care for the child. These include:

  • Abandonment of the child for 91 or more days;
  • Sexual abuse of the child;
  • Failure to provide support to the child despite having the means to do so;
  • Imprisonment for at least two years without the ability to care for the child; or
  • Conviction of certain violent criminal offenses.


Family Law

Do I need to prove my spouse was at fault to get a divorce in Michigan?

Michigan is a “no-fault” divorce state. A judge may consider fault, however, when making decisions about property division and spousal support. “Fault” could include adultery, abuse, or abandonment.

When can a child choose which parent they want to live with?

A child under the age of 18 cannot decide where they want to live entirely on their own in Michigan. A court may consider “the reasonable preference of the child” as one of many factors when making child custody decisions, or it may decide that the child is too young to state a preference. The decision is never left solely to the child.

When can a child refuse parenting time with a parent?

If a child is consistently refusing to visit one parent during that parent’s scheduled parenting time, a judge might need to review the custody order to see if changes are necessary.

What can I do if my child’s other parent is refusing to let them see or speak to me?

If a parent is withholding access to a child, they may be in violation of the custody order. It might be necessary to go back to court to enforce the order.

How can I change my support or custody order?

A court order regarding child support, custody, or parenting time cannot be changed in Michigan without going back to court and getting a new order. Modifying an order usually requires some significant change in circumstances for you or the child, such as a large increase or decrease in income for the parent paying child support.

My ex-spouse wants to move out of state with our children. Can they do that?

Michigan law allows a parent with primary custody of a child to move up to 100 miles away from where they lived at the time the court issued the custody order, but they must remain in the state. To move any further away, or to move out of Michigan, the parent either needs the other parent’s consent or a court order.

Tracie L McCarn-Dinehart is a family and criminal attorney in Ludington who practices with North Pointe Legal, PLLC. She represents clients throughout Michigan, including Mason, Manistee, Muskegon, Benzie, Oceana, and Lake Counties. If you have questions about a legal matter in Michigan, please contact us online or at (231) 480-1491 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.