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Court must make threshold findings as to children's established custodial environment when awarding modification of parenting time

The court concluded that the trial court did not make threshold findings as to the children's ECE and the impact of the new parenting-time schedule, and while it stated grounds warranting modification, it "failed to connect those findings to a proper-cause or best-interest analysis." Thus, the court remanded the case to the trial court to conduct a continued hearing (based on up-to-date information) on the plaintiff-mother's request to modify the 50/50 parenting-time schedule and reduce the defendant-father's time with their children. In granting plaintiff's request, the trial court made no finding as to the children's ECE. Given that the parties shared equal parenting time before the modification motion, it was "likely that the children looked to both parents 'for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort.'" However, the trial court must make this determination on remand. It also made no determination as to the impact of the parenting-time change on the children's ECE. While it was obvious the amount of time defendant spent with the children was reduced, the overall impact was "not as black-and-white on the record." The court noted that the "proper evidentiary standard hangs on this determination." If there is no change in the ECE, plaintiff "bears a much lower burden of proof" as to the children's best interests. On remand, the trial court "must address the effect of the chosen parenting-time modification" on the children's ECE and instruct the parties as to their burdens. The court concluded that the trial court "did cite grounds that could support proper cause to effectuate a change." On remand, it "should affirmatively state the applicable standard of review and place its factual conclusions into the appropriate legal context." The trial court stated "certain circumstances that would be relevant to a best-interests analysis and found these 'warranted' a parenting-time modification." It cited "the daughter's anxiety and need for counseling, 'the inconvenience and burden of the children of going back and forth'" too much, and "evidence that defendant's drinking may put the children at risk." However, it "failed to tie this information to any of the best-interest factors of either MCL 722.27a or MCL 722.23." The court noted that in completing its best interests analysis on remand, the trial court should "carefully consider" defendant's claim that a substance abuse assessment professional "found no evidence of alcoholism" in his report, noting that there was "no evidence that defendant ever became intoxicated in the children's presence."

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