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Court of Appeals Decides Another Relocation Case

Clarkston Legal April 10, 2009

One of the most significant (and often painful) events in divorce proceedings is when a parent seeks a change of domicile; a relocation of the children beyond the 100-miles allowed by the Legislature in the Child Custody Act. These motions often result in hearings that can be more traumatic to the parties and children than a full-blown divorce trial.

The losing parent often appeals the result thus, the Michigan Court of Appeals issues a steady diet of relocation decisions.

In that case, the parents shared joint physical custody of their child and exercised an alternating weekly parenting schedule. The evidence from the trial court in Crawford County was that each parent exercised their respective parenting time. The domicile issue arose, however, when the Mother re-married and her new husband located a better-paying job in Texas. The Mother claimed she too had employment prospects in Texas.

The Father in this case is employed by the Michigan National Guard. The evidence demonstrated he was a good father, engaged in the proper rearing and discipline of the child.

The Crawford Circuit Court nevertheless found that an “established custodial environment” existed with the Mother only, and granted her motion based on a finding that she satisfied the critical factors of the domicile statute by a “preponderance” of the evidence. The Father appealed the trial court’s decision.

In reversing the lower court and remanding the case for an additional hearing, the Court of Appeals, recognizing the difficult economic times faced by all Michiganders, held that the lower court erred by failing to apply the “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard to not only the domicile statute factors, but to all the “best interest” factors set forth in the much broader Child Custody Act. The Court of Appeals also held that the lower court erred by concluding that an “established custodial environment” existed only with the Mother. An established custodial environment is a legal term defined by the court to mean:

if over an appreciable period of time the child naturally looks to the custodian in that environment for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort. The age of the child, the physical environment, and the inclination of the custodian
and the child as to the permanency of the relationship shall also be considered.

Since the case is “unpublished”, it does not have binding effect on local family courts faced with similar fact-scenarios. This case does, however, offer a solid guide for a parent opposing a relocation motion.