Can I Change Domicile and Move My Kids Out of Michigan?
In Michigan, no parent may make a unilateral decision to move their minor children to another state without the consent of the court.
In fact, the law prevents minor children from being moved any distance greater than 100 miles, even if the more than 100-mile move is within the State of Michigan. The change of domicile 100-mile rule is set forth in the Michigan Child Custody Act. The granting of such a move is done by Motion to the court. In general, Change of Domicile Motions tend to be highly emotional. In order to be successful, the party seeking the move must meet the strict requirements of the Michigan Child Custody Act.
What are the requirements that must be met to change domicile?
The Michigan Child Custody Act lists five factors that must be proven in order to be granted a change of domicile for minor children. These factors are laid out in a Statute and are as follows:
- Will the changing of the legal residence of the child have the capacity to improve the quality of life of both the minor child and the relocating parent? This factor will take into consideration what the quality of life for the parent and child is here in Michigan in comparison to the proposed new location. Oftentimes, finances play a large role in assessing quality of life. For instance, if the custodial parent is in deep financial stress here in Michigan and they can move to another state where there is a high-quality job waiting, then they can argue that the move will have the capacity to improve the quality of life for both themselves and the minor children. However, if one parent wants to move to a different state because “they have better weather there,” the court will probably be unpersuaded. If the minor child is attending a top-rated, multi-cultural school here in Michigan, and the proposed move would place the minor child in a rural school that scores significantly low on scholastic testing spectrums, then the court would also likely be unpersuaded because the move would actually lessen the quality of life for the minor child. Additionally, the court tends to frown upon moves that are motivated by the moving parent’s desire to join-up with their boyfriend/girlfriend in another state. The move may improve the quality of life for the moving parent, but it won’t necessarily make things better for the minor child.
- Has the parent who is seeking to move with the minor child been compliant with the parenting orders to date? Is the parent that is seeking approval of a move doing so in an attempt to frustrate the other parent’s relationship with the minor child? If the parent that is seeking to move has a history of not following the court’s orders here in Michigan, the court will be very suspect about granting a move to another state. After all, if there has been difficulty getting visitation to unfold smoothly here in Michigan, enforcement will only become more difficult when the minor child is 500 or even 2,500 miles away. Also, the court will cast a keen eye towards what is the true motivation of the moving parent. If the non-custodial parent can establish that the moving parent tries to poison the relationship with the minor child, the court will be very hesitant to grant a move. The court does not want to grant one party a new tool to alienate the parent-child relationship of the other party.
- Will the parent who is now being separated from their minor child be afforded a visitation schedule which will preserve and foster an on-going meaningful relationship with the minor child? If the parent who is being separated has established a history of seeing the minor child every weekend as well as on holidays, then the parent that is asking for permission to move will need to convince the court that a new schedule, albeit different, can be established which will allow the non-moving parent to have a meaningful relationship with the minor child. Sometimes the moving parent will propose that the parent staying here in Michigan will be granted four, six or even eight weeks of summer visitation with the minor child. Depending on the uniqueness of each situation, the court may or may not be swayed by such a proposal. There may be a long history of one parent sports-coaching the minor child here in Michigan a couple of nights per week, and in fact, the minor child loves having mom or dad as their coach. The moving parent will have a difficult task of persuading a judge that they can propose replacement visitation that will be as meaningful as the sports coaching. Additionally, a granted move will certainly add significant travel expenses and time. The court is usually hesitant to place the financial and time burdens of a move on the parent remaining here in Michigan. The court will look closely at all of these factors.
- Is the parent who is opposing the move doing so because they want to gain a financial advantage as it relates to their child support order? For instance, under a current situation, the non-moving parent may have 100 overnights per year and the moving parent has 265 overnights per year. The parties have likely been operating under a child support order that reflects this division of overnights. Perhaps a move to a different state will cause the overnight division to become 65 overnights for one parent and 300 overnights for the moving parent. Naturally, this new division formula will trigger a new child support order and the non-moving parent will then be required to pay more child support. The court will be very interested to understand whether the parent remaining here in Michigan is opposing the move simply because they don’t want to have their child support payment increased. Remember, the court is very much focused first on the well-being of the minor child. The court would take a dim view of an opposition solely for the reason of preventing a child support increase.
- Is there a history of domestic violence and, in particular, has the minor child been a witness to domestic violence? The court will always want to know if there’s been a history of domestic violence.
As stated above, the court will engage in a thoughtful analysis of these five factors. A well-qualified Michigan family law attorney will know how to accentuate either the strengths or weaknesses of these factors. In some instances, the court may even schedule an Evidentiary hearing to further consider all of the factors. An Evidentiary hearing is, in essence, a mini-trial that would be focused solely on the issue of change of domicile. At the Evidentiary hearing, your attorney will be afforded the opportunity to call witnesses, present written evidence, cross-examine witnesses, etc. Your family law attorney will need to prepare for the Evidentiary hearing in much the same way that he prepares for a trial.
Like contested divorces, change of domicile motions are often negotiated to a settlement short of an Evidentiary hearing. A change of domicile motion is a highly emotional matter for both the moving and non-moving parent. An Evidentiary hearing, if actually held, will raise emotions to an even higher level. A good family law judge will attempt to use significant pressure and persuasion to get the parents to reach a negotiated settlement short of an Evidentiary hearing. In some instances, a family law judge may order the parties to participate in non-binding mediation prior to an Evidentiary hearing.
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