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FAMILY LAW 45: By default, trial court is required to enforce the arbitrator’s award.

The parties were never married, but they have a five-year-old daughter (ES). At the time the child was born, the parties lived in Colorado. When the child was approximately six months old, the parties agreed to a Parenting Plan in the District Court for the County of Denver, Colorado. The District Court also entered a related Order for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities.

Parenting Plan

When the parties entered into the parenting plan, plaintiff was anticipating a move to Michigan. The parenting plan provided that, given the child’s young age, plaintiff would have primary custody and defendant would have reasonable and liberal parenting time when he came to Michigan to visit. The Plan also provided that in the event of a controversy, the parties would agree to use a mediator and/or arbitrator to settle any disputes. Plaintiff and the child moved to Michigan in May 2014.

Arbitrator

Michigan courts did not get involved in the matter until May 2017.  The parties, in accordance with their parenting plan, selected a mediator and arbitrator to resolve parenting time issues, including plaintiff’s imminent move to California. Plaintiff moved with the child to California without court permission or permission from defendant. She continued to reside there with the child. The California courts refused to take jurisdiction over the custody dispute, instead deferring to Michigan to resolve the matter. This has created rather an anomaly in which none of the parties reside in Michigan. Plaintiff lives in California with the child and defendant continues to reside in Colorado.

In December 2017, defendant filed motion to change custody. Defendant argued that a change of circumstances existed because plaintiff had moved with ES to California without the approval of the trial court or defendant. Also, defendant alleged that plaintiff repeatedly interfered with defendant’s parenting time. Further, plaintiff enrolled ES in a preschool without defendant’s consent and then withdrew her from the preschool without notice on the day that defendant arrived for a classroom visit. Defendant asked for physical custody of ES.

Hearing to Change Custody

A hearing on defendant’s motion to change custody was held in Michigan. Defendant appeared at the arbitration hearing on both dates. He testified on the first date of the arbitration hearing. Plaintiff failed to appear on the first date but appeared and testified on the second date of the arbitration hearing. On March 14, 2019, the arbitrator issued his 39-page opinion and award granting defendant’s motion to change custody.

Confirm Arbitration Award

Defendant then filed in the trial court a motion to confirm the arbitration award. Plaintiff filed a response opposing defendant’s motion and filed a motion to vacate the arbitration award.

The trial court made an independent determination regarding ES’s best interests, and an evidentiary hearing was not required to make that independent determination. The trial court amply demonstrated its familiarity with the facts of this case, and the court indicated that it had reviewed the entire record, including the transcripts of the arbitration hearing, the motions and briefs filed before the arbitrator, and the arbitrator’s lengthy and detailed opinions. The trial court repeatedly emphasized its independent determination that the arbitrator’s award was in ES’s best interests.

The trial court’s orders confirmed the arbitrator’s award.

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