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FAMILY LAW 67: The court held that the trial court did not apply an incorrect standard or abuse its discretion in granting plaintiff-mother’s motion to change the child’s domicile.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On September 30, 2013, plaintiff filed for divorce. On November 14, 2013, the court entered an order for custody and parenting time awarding plaintiff and defendant joint legal and joint physical custody of the child.  On February 27, 2014, the judgment of divorce was entered. On October 8, 2019, plaintiff filed an amended motion for change of domicile.  During the proceedings, defendant also filed a motion requesting that the court grant him full custody of the child and grant plaintiff reasonable parenting time. The court held an evidentiary hearing on plaintiff’s motion for change of domicile and defendant’s motion to change custody. The trial court concluded that it was in the child’s best interests that plaintiff have full physical custody of the child. The court granted plaintiff’s motion for change of domicile.

CHANGE OF DOMICILE

Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in granting plaintiff’s motion for a change of domicile because plaintiff failed to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the enumerated factors in MCL 722.31(4) favored a change in domicile. We disagree. “This Court reviews a trial court’s decision regarding a motion for change of domicile for an abuse of discretion and a trial court’s findings regarding the factors set forth in MCL 722.31(4) under the ‘great weight of the evidence’ standard.”  This Court enumerated the four-step process a court must undertake when determining whether to grant or deny a motion for change of domicile: First, a trial court must determine whether the moving party has established by a preponderance of the evidence that the factors enumerated in MCL 722.31(4), the so-called D’Onofrio factors, support a motion for a change of domicile. Second, if the factors support a change in domicile, then the trial court must then determine whether an established custodial environment exists. Third, if an established custodial environment exists, the trial court must then determine whether the change of domicile would modify or alter that established custodial environment. Finally, if, and only if, the trial court finds that a change of domicile would modify or alter the child’s established custodial environment must the trial court determine whether the change in domicile would be in the child’s best interests by considering whether the best-interest factors in MCL 722.23 have been established by clear and convincing evidence.

WHETHER PLAINTIFF ESTABLISHED THE FACTORS ENUMERATED IN MCL 722.31(4) BY A PREPONDERANCE OF THE EVIDENCE

As the party requesting the change in domicile, plaintiff had the burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the change in domicile was warranted. Upon review of the record, the trial court primarily focused on the fact that plaintiff’s new position offered multiple benefits, including financial stability, increased time with plaintiff, and no risk of deployment, all of which had the capacity to improve the child’s life. The court further concluded that it would be possible to work out a parenting time schedule to allow both plaintiff and defendant to maintain their relationship with the child.  The trial court’s findings that Plaintiff established the factors enumerated in MCL 722.31(4) by a preponderance of the evidence are not against the great weight of the evidence.

ESTABLISHED CUSTODIAL ENVIRONMENT

“It is only after the trial court determines that the moving party has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that a change of domicile is warranted that the trial court must determine whether an established custodial environment exists.” The trial court found that an established custodial environment existed with both parents.  The court determined that the child’s change of residence from Sterling Heights to Alpena, and the consequent change in parenting time for defendant, would change the established custodial environment from both plaintiff and defendant to plaintiff. Thus, the court was required to determine whether the change in custodial environment was in the child’s best interests.

BEST INTERESTS

Defendant argues that the trial court erred in concluding that plaintiff established, by clear and convincing evidence, that it was in the child’s best interests to change the established custodial environment. We disagree. This Court reviews a trial court’s findings of fact regarding the best interest factors “under the great weight of the evidence standard.  Plaintiff established by clear and convincing evidence that it was in the child’s best interests to move to Alpena.

ADVICE TO CLIENTS FACING ISSUES IN FAMILY LAW CASES

Aldrich Legal Services understands what a stressful time this is for you when you have to get court approval to move.

Aldrich Legal Services represent parents throughout southeast Michigan with a wide range of family law related matters.

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