Among the many motions that are filed in the family courts in Michigan, the most difficult, stressful and heart-wrenching is a motion to change domicile. This is a motion that seeks to relocate minor children from where they lived when a divorce or custody proceeding was filed to another state, or to a location within Michigan more than the 100-miles allowed by the Child Custody Act.
The moving party in such a motion has a burden to demonstrate that 5 factors outlined in the Child Custody Act support the requested change of domicile. The statutory domicile factors are:
- whether the legal residence change has the capacity to improve the quality of life of both the minor child and the relocating parent;
- the degree to which each parent has complied with any parenting orders already issued by the family court, and whether the requesting parent’s plan to change the child’s domicile is inspired by a desire to frustrate the existing parenting schedule;
- the degree to which the family court is satisfied that, if the motion is granted, the court can modify the parenting schedule such that it can provide an adequate basis to preserve and foster a parent-child relationship with both parents;
- the degree to which the non-relocating parent opposes the motion in order to gain a financial advantage relative to his or her child support obligation; and
- the degree to which domestic violence exists in the parental relationship and whether such domestic violence was witnessed by the minor child.
In assessing the evidence produced relative to the above statutory domicile factors, the family court’s primary focus is on the child, not the parents. Once this assessment is complete, then the family court must further determine whether the proposed move is in the minor child’s best interests. The court must examine each of the 11 “best interest” factors for this assessment. These factors are discussed in detail in this web site’s child custody link.
In our law practice, we have litigated many change of domicile motions: both on behalf of the relocating parent and for the non-relocating parent. In most cases, a negotiated compromise is impossible and the proceeding becomes an “all-or-nothing” trial or evidentiary hearing.
If you face such an important step in your divorce or custody case, contact our firm to schedule a free consultation so that you can explore your options. It is always best to do this early in the proceeding so that you can be proactive rather than reactive.