Michigan’s Rules for Relocating with Your Child
While the majority of people can simply pack up their bags and leave, this is not the case for parents who are separated or divorced and share custody of their children. In these situations, the relocating parent may need to obtain the other parent's permission to move, and is almost always required to secure court approval. Whether this process will be simple or difficult depends largely on the type of custody arrangement the parent wishing to relocate has and the reasons motivating the move.
A relocating parent’s ability to move is also restricted by court rule, which explicitly states: A judgment or order awarding custody of a minor must provide that
- the domicile or residence of the minor may not be moved from Michigan without the approval of the judge who awarded custody or the judge's successor,
- the person awarded custody must promptly notify the friend of the court in writing when the minor is moved to another address, and
- a parent whose custody or parenting time of a child is governed by the order shall not change the legal residence of the child except in compliance with section 11 of the Child Custody Act, MCL 722.31.
At first glance, it would appear that the provisions of MCL 722.31 and MCR 3.211(C) conflict. They do not. Simply stated, when a parent with sole legal custody desires to relocate, he or she must first obtain the trial court's approval, but the factors set forth in D'Onofrio v. D'Onofrio, 144 N.J.Super. 200, 206-207, 365 A.2d 27 (1976), and codified in MCL 722.31(4) (see above) do not apply to the request. Brausch v. Brausch, 283 Mich App 339, 348-350, 770 N.W.2d 77 (2009).
When the Relocation Effectively Changes the Custodial Environment
In cases where the parents share joint legal custody, the procedure for gaining court approval for a move is not nearly as straightforward as it is in cases of sole legal custody. The reason for this is because the parents each have an established custodial relationship with the child; each parent is actively involved in raising the child and providing guidance, comfort and basic necessities. Accordingly, if one of the parents moves to another state with the child, the other parent's ability to see the child on a regular basis is going to be limited.
Once a trial court grants permission for the relocating parent to remove the minor child from the state, and it appears that the move will change the established custodial environment, the court is required to analyze the best interest factors set forth in MCL 722.23. to determine whether the relocating parent can prove, by the proper burden of proof, that the removal and consequent change in established custodial environment and parenting time is in the child[ren]'s best interest. Rittershaus v. Rittershaus, 273 Mich App 462, 470, 730 N.W.2d 262, 267 (2007). Some of these factors include:
- The love, affection and other emotional ties existing between the parents and the child
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity
- The permanence as a family unit of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes
- The moral fitness of the parents
- The mental and physical health of the parents
- The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent
In addition to these factors, the courts are permitted to consider any other factor that would affect the child's best interests.
Courts today recognize the importance of a child maintaining a positive relationship with both parents. When one parent wants to move with the child to another state, the other parent's relationship with the child must change. For this reason, Michigan courts take move-away cases very seriously.
However, this does not mean that a parent will never be able to relocate out-of-state with his or her child. The courts also recognize that sometimes moving is necessary, especially in light of the current economic difficulties facing so many families.
For more information on moving out-of-state with your child, contact an experienced family lawyer today. Parents who leave the state without taking the proper legal steps may face criminal penalties.
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