Defendant and plaintiff are the parents of twin girls who were born in 2007. The parties were never married. They lived together for approximately four years after the children were born, but separated in March 2011. There is no dispute that plaintiff and defendant both continued to live in Saranac, Michigan after they separated. Parties have joint legal custody of the children and require plaintiff to receive reasonable and liberal parenting time according to the mutual agreement of the parties. The court also ordered plaintiff to pay child support.
In 2016, defendant moved the trial court under MCL 722.31(4) to change her and the children's domicile from Saranac to Grayling, Michigan. Defendant alleged that she intended to marry in June 2016, and that her soon to be husband lived in Grayling. She argued that moving to Grayling had the capacity to improve her own and the children's quality of life for various reasons. For instance, she argued that moving to Grayling would allow her to stop working and devote more time to the children. She also argued that the move would allow the children to live in a nicer house and attend a better school, and that Grayling had more outdoor activities than Saranac. Defendant asserted that plaintiff failed to take full advantage of his parenting time, and that the parenting-time schedule could be modified to preserve his relationship with the children despite the move. In response, plaintiff argued that the move to Grayling would alienate the children from him and negatively impact his relationship with them. He argued that the move would make it difficult for him to actively participate in the children's everyday lives.
Plaintiff explained that he participated in day-to-day activities with the children, such as attending their softball games, volunteering at their school, attending parent-teacher conferences, helping the children with their homework, and exercising occasional overnight visits during the school week. Plaintiff testified that the children liked going to school in Saranac and they had many friends there. He testified that the children had no family or friends in Grayling, and if they moved there, it would be more difficult for him to participate in their daily lives. Visits would require the children to ride in a vehicle for five hours and winter weather would make visits difficult.
The trial court found that allowing a change of domicile to Grayling had the capacity to improve defendant's life, but because she was now already married to her new husband, she already had his financial support regardless of whether the trial court granted her request to move. The trial court further found that allowing the children to move to Grayling would reduce plaintiff's involvement in their lives, and that it would not be possible to alter the parenting-time schedule to preserve plaintiff's relationship with the children in light of the significant distance between Saranac and Grayling. Accordingly, the trial court denied defendant's motion.
On appeal, the court found that defendant failed to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that a change of domicile was warranted under the factors in MCL 722.31(4) because the support she received from her new husband was not dependent on moving, the benefit of the schools and extracurricular activities available to the children . . . would be offset by plaintiff's decreased involvement in their day-to-day lives, plaintiff exercised his parenting time whenever he could, and there was no evidence that the children were exposed to domestic violence or that plaintiff's opposition to the move resulted from improper financial motives.
If you are going through a divorce or are separating from the mother or father of your children, it is important to protect your custodial rights. If the process does not turn out like you thought it would, you may not have the custody, visitation or child support you deserve. Seek the advice and guidance of an experienced family law and divorce attorney who will be by your side every step of the way.