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DIVORCE 62: Changing schools can disrupt the custodial environment.

The parties were married for five and a half years with only one child, divorcing in December 2018. Plaintiff continued to live in the marital home in Washtenaw County after defendant moved out. Following the divorce, defendant moved to Fowlerville. Initially, the parties were awarded joint custody and divided parenting time equally.

In October 2019, plaintiff was evicted from the marital home and moved in with her boyfriend and his mother in Sterling Heights. The minor, who was in the first grade, continued to attend school in Washtenaw County. Plaintiff’s new home was approximately 60 miles away. As a result, when the minor was with plaintiff the pair would need to leave home at 5:30 a.m. and would not return home until 7:30 p.m. Meanwhile, plaintiff’s home in Sterling Heights was only a five-minute commute to the local elementary school.

Change in Custody and Child’s School

Plaintiff filed a motion in the circuit court, requesting an order transferring the minor to the Utica school district and awarding her primary physical custody.

Following a six-day evidentiary hearing spread over several months, the trial court instead ordered that the minor transfer to the Fowlerville school district and reside primarily with defendant.

Best Interests of the Child

In this case, it is undisputed that the minor had an established custodial environment with both parents and that changing schools would disrupt the custodial environment. If the proposed change alters the established custodial environment, the party seeking the change must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the change is in the child’s best interests.

Plaintiff argues that factor (c), the capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and other material needs, should have favored her rather than defendant. Plaintiff takes issue with the trial court’s finding that plaintiff had struggled financially since the divorce, seemingly unable to independently provide for herself and the minor.

Plaintiff testified that she could not obtain housing independent of her boyfriend. This factor is not determined solely by who makes more money as long as each party has enough money to meet the child’s needs. However, defendant not only earned more money than plaintiff, but plaintiff, despite being financially unstable, left a high paying job so that she could live with her boyfriend.

Moreover, the trial court was concerned that plaintiff made a habit of leaving the minor with third parties overnight during her parenting time. Plaintiff testified that she often left the minor overnight with her best friend or her 19-year-old daughter. The trial court was concerned that plaintiff’s conduct was indicative of someone who put their interests ahead of their child’s. Furthermore, the trial court was concerned that the mother was ceding many of her parental responsibilities to her nineteen-year-old daughter.

Skilled Assistance with Custody

If you are going through a divorce or are separating, 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.

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