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FAMILY LAW 7: Parents share legal/physical custody but disagree on school.

Plaintiff, had physical custody of the minor child as of August 2011, but shared legal custody with Defendant. In October 2012, the parties filed competing motions for physical custody and parenting time. In 2013, the trial court ordered joint legal and physical custody with alternating weeks of parenting time consistent with the parties’ practice at the time.

In September 2016, when the subject of school placement arose, the trial court continued joint legal and physical custody, ordered enrollment of the child in the Public Schools near Defendant, and gave Defendant parenting time during the week and Plaintiff parenting time on the weekend.

In October 2016, Defendant filed a motion to amend the order, requesting two additional weekends of parenting time per month. Plaintiff countered that the parents could have equal parenting time if the child attended school halfway between the parents’ houses. After holding an evidentiary hearing in February 2017, the trial court maintained the parents’ joint legal and physical custody of the child. The trial court ordered that the child finish kindergarten at the school that he was attending and enroll in the school halfway between for the following school year beginning in the fall of 2017. Beginning in the summer, the trial court ordered, the parents had equal parenting time either as agreed or on an alternating weekly basis.

Defendant appealed the trial court’s order regarding custody, parenting time, and school placement.

Defendant argues that the trial court erred by changing custody of the child because it did not find clear and convincing evidence that changing custody was in the child’s best interests. The trial court did not change custody, however. The parents have had joint legal and physical custody since 2013, and the trial court continued this custody arrangement. In addition, the purpose of the trial court’s ruling that the child should change schools was to maintain the established custodial environment with both parents.

Defendant argues that the trial court’s ruling that the child should change schools to have equal time with each parent was not in the child’s best interests. Defendant maintains that he was able to provide a more “stable, satisfactory environment.”

Although Defendant has enjoyed a longer period of stable housing and employment, Plaintiff has also demonstrated stability. She had housing and employment, and she maintained them for longer periods of time just before the hearing. She also planned to stay in the house she was living in. Accordingly, the evidence does not clearly preponderate in Defendant’s favor.

MCL 722.23(h) lists the home, school, and community record of the child as a custody factor. There was no evidence that the child would not do equally well at the new school, in an area where he had relatives. Plaintiff explained her plan of transportation and enrollment, checking with the school about enrollment and finding the school that was roughly equidistant for both parties. Thus, the evidence about the school does not clearly preponderate in Defendant’s favor.

In sum, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendant’s motion for additional parenting time and by changing the child’s school to maintain the established custodial environment with both parents. Further, the trial court did not err by concluding that changing schools to maintain the established custodial environment was in the child’s best interests.  The appeals court affirmed.

It is important to remember that decrees regarding child support, child custody, and parenting time 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.

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