Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) Report
In January 2021, the children’s guardian ad litem (GAL) issued a report and recommendation advising the trial court that defendant had uncovered a plan by plaintiff to move with the children from Rochester to New Baltimore where her fiancé lived which would result in a commute of approximately one hour each way between plaintiff’s new residence and the children’s schools in Rochester.
Change of Circumstances
Plaintiff relocated with the children to her fiancé’s home in mid-March 2021. During May 2021, she moved to transfer the children from Rochester schools to Anchor Bay schools in New Baltimore and to alter the parenting-time schedule in whatever manner necessary to implement that change. Defendant responded by moving to change custody and parenting time, arguing that plaintiff’s unilateral decision to move the children an hour away constituted proper cause and a substantial change of circumstances.
The trial court agreed that the long morning commute on school days satisfied the threshold burden for reconsidering custody.
Following an evidentiary hearing, the court opined that an established custodial environment existed with both parents, such that clear and convincing evidence had to be presented in support of a custody modification.
Concerning the statutory best-interest factors, MCL 722.23, the trial court found that factors (a) (love, affection, and emotional ties), (g) (mental and physical health), and (k) (domestic violence), equally credited both parents; while factor (j) (willingness and ability to facilitate child’s relationship with other parent) did not favor either parent. The court interviewed each child separately in camera and took their statements into consideration under factor (i) (child’s reasonable preference), but did not consider any other unenumerated considerations under factor (l) (any other factor). The remaining best-interest factors favored defendant.
The court cited evidence regarding plaintiff’s timeline of disclosing the move and possible school change, which involved revealing information to the children well before defendant.
The court expressed concern regarding plaintiff’s failure to appreciate how her actions left the children in a position of having to keep secrets from defendant, caused them uncertainty about their future schooling, and made them feel guilty for telling defendant the truth. The court opined that plaintiff’s decision making concerning the move gave almost no consideration to the children.
The court determined that the children had more stability and permanence as a family unit with defendant in Rochester. The court granted plaintiff parenting time three weekends of each month, as well as non-overnight parenting time on Wednesday afternoons. The court granted defendant the balance of the parenting time during the school year. During summer break, the court ruled that parenting time be exercised on alternating weeks. The court did not alter the parties’ previous holiday schedule.
Assistance With Post-Decree Modifications
It is important to remember that decrees regarding child support, child custody, and visitation are not always final. Circumstances change all the time, which is why it is possible to seek a post-decree modification.
Our family law attorneys at Aldrich Legal Services have helped countless family law clients across southeast Michigan, including in Wayne, Washtenaw and Oakland counties, receive modifications that more fairly meet their needs. Contact us at our law firm in Plymouth. We can help you determine your chances of receiving a modification.