Plaintiff-mother appeals an order denying her objections to the Friend of the Court referee’s recommendation to deny her motion to change parenting time.
In October 2010, a consent judgment of divorce was entered granting plaintiff and defendant-father joint physical custody of the minor child. Since then, plaintiff and defendant have filed numerous motions with the trial court regarding enforcement and custody modification issues concerning the child. Notably, in December 2013, the trial court found that plaintiff made serious, untrue allegations toward defendant’s family. In December 2014, defendant moved the trial court to modify custody, and after a lengthy evidentiary hearing conducted over the course of 2015, the Friend of Court referee recommended that defendant be awarded primary physical custody. In May 2016, a consent order was entered to that effect. Plaintiff was given parenting time on alternating weekends from Friday afternoon to Monday morning, midweek dinner parenting time on alternating Wednesdays from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., and three weeks of summer parenting time. In January 2017, plaintiff was granted an additional overnight on her alternating weekends.
In November 2017, plaintiff moved the trial court to change the child’s parenting time to grant her two additional overnights every other week. In her motion, plaintiff asserted that changing parenting time would foster her relationship with the child.
The referee found that plaintiff did not meet her burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that a proper cause or change of circumstances existed to warrant modifying parenting time, or that such a change would be in the child’s best interests.
Plaintiff argues that the trial court committed a clear legal error when it applied the wrong legal standard to her motion to change parenting time.
The Child Custody Act of 1970, MCL 722.21 et seq., authorizes a trial court to issue custody and parenting-time orders that are in the child’s best interests. A showing of proper cause or change of circumstances is required to modify a parenting-time order. The movant has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that either proper cause or a change of circumstances exists.
Plaintiff’s proofs related mostly to her own personal improvement. The referee complimented plaintiff on her advances but failed to see grounds for modifying parenting time. The best interests of the child controls parenting time and changes must be grounded in the needs of the child, not the parent. In addition, there was no evidence that the present parenting-time schedule was insufficient for plaintiff to maintain a strong relationship with the child.
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 divorce or separation 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. At the Plymouth and Ann Arbor law firm of Aldrich Legal Services, our attorneys represent parents throughout southeast Michigan with a wide range of custody-related matters.