Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Relocating with a Child After a Divorce

by Wendy Alton

In Michigan, a divorced parent must seek approval from the Court if they wish to move their child out of state. If both parents agree to the relocation, the Court generally grants it. If one parent objects to the relocation, the Court may grant the request if the parent seeking the relocation can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the relocation is warranted after reviewing the following factors:

1) Will the change improve the quality of life for the child and parent
2) The degree to which each parent has complied with their parenting time schedule
3) The degree to which the court can modify parenting time to preserve & foster the relationship 4) The extent to which the opposing parent is motivated by financial reasons
5) Domestic violence, regardless of whether it involves the child

The Court of Appeals recently evaluated a relocation case in Davenport v Mosholder, unpublished opinion per curiam of the Court of Appeals, issued September 9, 2010 (Docket No. 295852).

In Davenport v Mosholder, a relocation request was filed by the mother who wished to move from Michigan to Georgia. The testimony revealed that the child generally resided with his parents on alternating weeks. The trial court eventually concluded that the child had an established custodial environment with both parents, but that the proposed relocation would not alter that established custodial environment. Further, the trial court indicated that while the father would have less overnights after the move, the reduction was not significant and the child would still have daily access to his father, thus maintaining the established custodial environment.

The Court of Appeals, however, disagreed with this determination, indicating that the move to Georgia would clearly alter the established custodial environment. In an interesting analysis, the Court of Appeals relied on evidence that the father had almost daily contact with his child, coached his sports, served as a scout den leader, and generally was active in the child’s life on a daily basis, despite having the child only half of the year on an overnight basis. The Court of Appeals found that daily contact via webcam when the child relocated to Georgia was not an effective substitute for the clearly established custodial environment between father and son as it existed in Michigan.

The Court of Appeals recognized that an established custodial environment can exist with a parent even if that parent does not have the majority of the overnight parenting time. The Court acknowledged that active daily involvement can be the basis for an established custodial environment.

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

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