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Changing School Districts After Divorce

Clarkston Legal Sept. 17, 2015

Often, we see parents reassess their entire lives and make a series of rapid significant life-changes in the wake of divorce. Changing jobs, counties, even states, is common.

A recent case from Monroe County caught our attention. In Zalewski v Garrison, the family court judge granted Father’s request to enjoin Mother from moving their two minor children from Monroe County closer to her job and closer to her now-husband in Western Wayne County. In the process, she sought to change the children’s school district from the Bedford Community Schools to Allen Park.

The judge granted Father’s injunction on based on his findings that Mother’s request to change the school district was fueled by Mother’s economic and romantic motives in attempting the move.

Father sought to enjoin Mother from moving from the Bedford School District to Allen Park some 3-years after entry of the judgment of divorce Mother located employment in Dearborn following a comprehensive job-search along with suitable housing; she was in the process of purchasing the home, she says, with input, advice, and encouragement from her ex-husband.

The case arose when the Friend of the Court Referee made a recommendation adverse to Mother’s position which recommendation was upheld by a Monroe family judge after a de novo hearing. The evidence submitted by the parties consisted largely of their own testimony, although the children’s teachers also testified.

For his part, Father opined that the public schools in both Allen Park and Taylor were both too rough for his kids. Neither party presented specific evidence comparing the two school districts: Bedford vs Allen Park. But the record amply demonstrated that Mother was the go-to parent for the children’s school-related needs and that Father was permanently absent and un-involved in the education process; his testimony suggested his job responsibilities over the second shift in a factory excused his participation in the children’s education.

In reversing the family court judge, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that emphasizing and basing a decision on Mother’s motives over the “best interests of the children” was reversible error. The Court of Appeals relied on caselaw that requires an initial inquiry to determine whether the proposed change would alter the “established custodial environment”.

In an interesting footnote, Mother’s assertion to the Court of Appeals that she could move the children “at will” anywhere in the Bedford school district because of language in the judgment of divorce was rejected. She nevertheless carried the day on her big win; the Court of Appeals ordered Mother be allowed to enroll the children in the Allen Park public schools, forthwith.

These are the parental decisions that rock children’s worlds. Sometimes they may be necessary, but they still rock a child’s world. As evidenced by the involvement of lawyers, referees and four judges, the stakes are very high.

If you or a family member would like to explore your options relative to a proposed or a possible change of schools, call us to schedule a free consultation so we can review your options.

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