Friday, October 8, 2010

Less Transition for Children not Proper Cause to Change Parenting Time

by Wendy Alton

When going through a divorce in Michigan, it is extremely important to carefully agree upon a parenting time schedule with your children that will work for a long period to come. Some parents decide to share joint physical custody—meaning that both parents aim to spend as much time as they can with their children, usually resulting in half of the child’s time with one parent and half with the other.

What usually results in such an agreement is that the children rotate houses every week (one week with one parent and the next with the other parent), or the children spend some days in the week with one parent, and the other days in the week with the other parent. Obviously, the latter arrangement results in many transitions for the children, as they are rotating houses up to 3-4 times per week.

In the case of Stelman v Stelman, unpublished case per curiam of the Michigan Court of Appeals, issued August 3, 2010 (Docket No. 294105), the parents had such an agreement. The children were with their father 4 nights in the 1st and 3rd weeks of the month, and 2 nights in the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month. During the summer months, the parents took full alternating weeks. The father in Stelman sought a parenting time change, asking the court to change the parenting time to alternating weeks throughout the entire year. Under his current parenting time plan, he spent 12 overnights with his children, and his proposed would increase it slightly to 14 overnights with his children. Thus, the amount of overnights with the children would remain consistent. What the father proposed is that alternating weeks throughout the entire year would be a better plan because it would reduce the amount of transitions for the children by about half.

Oakland County Circuit Court ruled that his reason for seeking the change (reducing transitions), did not meet the threshold required for seeking a modification of parenting time. The Court of Appeals agreed. In Michigan, in order to seek a modification of parenting time, you must provide the court with evidence that there has been a change in circumstances or there is proper cause for seeking the change. Both courts were very clear that just a new proposal that reduced transitions did not meet the required evidence of change in circumstances or proper cause. The father never showed “what had changed” to make the existing parenting time schedule in need of modification. Just seeking a new arrangement to reduce transition for the children is not enough for the court to change the parenting time schedule.

If you are going through a divorce with children, it cannot be emphasized enough that you have good legal counsel to help you decide issues of custody and parenting time. Your decision becomes final and unchangeable unless there has been a change in circumstances or proper cause—this is a difficult evidentiary burden to meet. The decisions made in your divorce have long-lasting effects on you and your children—and you should be assisted by an attorney who can educate and advise you so you understand the full ramifications of your decision.

If you are interested in learning more about divorce or family law, please call Wendy Alton at 248-380-9976 or email her at

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