During their marriage, the parties had eight children, five of whom are still minors. In the parties’ 2014 consent judgment of divorce, plaintiff was awarded primary physical custody of the children, and the parties were awarded joint legal custody of the children.
In 2016, the parties entered a stipulated order purporting to grant plaintiff sole legal and physical custody of the children, permitting defendant to move to Ohio, and reserving to defendant a specified amount of parenting time and reasonable parental rights, defined as spelled out.
Defendant moved to Ohio and plaintiff and the children began living with plaintiff’s parents.
Motion for Change of Custody
In 2018, defendant filed a motion for change of custody. Defendant raised numerous concerns about the children’s care in plaintiff’s custody, including unsafe and cramped housing conditions, failure to provide the children with basic sanitation and clothing needs, failure to provide adequate supervision, neglect of the children’s emotional needs, denigration of defendant, and interference with defendant’s visitation time and ability to communicate with the children.
Plaintiff generally denied defendant’s assertions or contended that some of them were one-time abnormal occurrences.
In 2019, represented by counsel, defendant filed another motion for change of custody. She further asserted that there had been a change of circumstances since the 2016 stipulated order because plaintiff had moved and was living in an unsafe residence; plaintiff enrolled the children in an unaccredited school without consulting defendant; plaintiff threatened to block defendant entirely from seeing the children if she attempted to have any say in the children’s welfare; and defendant had obtained stable employment, a stable relationship, stable housing, and ties to her community.
Threshold for Modifying Custody
As set forth in MCL 722.27(1)(c), when seeking to modify a custody or a parenting-time order, the moving party must first establish proper cause or a change of circumstances before the court may proceed to an analysis of whether the requested modification is in the child’s best interests.
The trial court held a thorough hearing, taking detailed testimony from the parties, two of the adult children, various witnesses familiar with the family, and in-camera interviews with all five of the minor children regarding their preferences.
The court also considered other matters that arose at the evidentiary hearing, namely, the domestic violence taking place in plaintiff’s household and the historic living conditions related to the children’s housing, medical, and material needs while in plaintiff’s care.
The trial court’s findings regarding domestic violence and the deficiencies in the care they received from plaintiff were well-supported by the record. Furthermore, those matters related to several best-interest factors, including Factors (c) (capacity and disposition to provide food, clothing, medical care, and other material needs), (h) (home, school, and community record), and (k) (domestic violence). Plaintiff’s neglect and mistreatment of the children posed a significant risk to each child’s mental health, physical well-being, and very ability to survive in the future.
The trial court granted defendant’s motion for change of custody, awarding defendant sole legal and physical custody of the minor children.
Assistance with Post-Decree Modifications in Michigan
It is important to remember that decrees regarding child support, child custody, visitation and spousal support (alimony) are not always final.
Circumstances change all the time, which is why it is possible to seek a post-decree modification. Contact Aldrich Legal Services if you would like to meet with one of our lawyers about your case.