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Custody Modification – How to Modify a Child Custody Award

Custody modification.

In Michigan, a child custody determination can be modified.  The statutory authority for a court to modify a custody determination is found in Michigan Compiled Laws section 722.27(c).  In order to modify a Michigan child custody determination, the party seeking to change child custody must first provide a good basis for the modification.  Michigan divorce and custody lawyers call this a threshold requirement.  Simply put, before child custody can be modified you or your custody attorney must first provide sufficient evidence to meet the threshold requirement.

New – For a detailed discussion on Custody modification with a video, visit here.

The threshold requirement under Michigan divorce and Michigan custody law is “proper cause or change in circumstances”  which is the legal term of art to describe the good basis for custody modification.  Therefore, a court will not consider a request for custody modification unless it is first shown that there is proper cause or a change in circumstances sufficient to warrant a review of a child custody award.

So how does Michigan divorce and Michigan child custody law define proper cause or change in circumstances?

Proper Cause or Change of Circumstances.

The seminal Michigan case on proper cause or a change of circumstances is Vodvarka v Grassmeyer, 259 Mich. App. 499 (2003).

Proper Cause is defined by the court as an appropriate ground relevant to one of the twelve statutory best interest factors and be of such a magnitude to have a significant effect on the child’s well being.  

Change of Circumstances is defined as requiring the party seeking to modify custody to prove that, since the entry of the last custody order, the conditions surrounding custody of the child, which have or could have a significant effect on the child’s well-being, have materially changed.

Once the initial burden of showing proper cause or change of circumstances is met, the case proceeds under the statutory best interest factors typically with a trial or evidentiary hearing.  As part of our Michigan Divorce Education Series, we provide the basics, details, the law, articles and a video on Michigan child custody.

So for your reading pleasure, here is a summary of popular cases addressing proper cause and change of circumstances:

  • Must allege proper cause or change in circumstances:  To establish a “change of circumstances,” under Child Custody Act provision requiring party seeking change in custody to first establish proper cause or change of circumstances, a movant must prove that, since the entry of the last custody order, the conditions surrounding custody of the child, which have or could have a significant effect on the child’s well-being, have materially changed; the evidence must demonstrate something more than the normal life changes, both good and bad, that occur during the life of a child, and there must be at least some evidence that the material changes have had or will almost certainly have an effect on the child. Vodvarka v. Grasmeyer (2003) 675 N.W.2d 847, 259 Mich.App. 499.
  • Change since last order required.  The trial court was not required to conduct a full evidentiary hearing for custody modification when the biological father did not allege any change in circumstances in the five-month period between the entry of the original order and the stipulated order. Killingbeck v. Killingbeck (2005) 711 N.W.2d 759, 269 Mich.App. 132
  • Burden of proof:  To establish “proper cause” necessary to revisit a child custody order, a movant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the existence of an appropriate ground for legal action to be taken by the trial court; the appropriate ground(s) should be relevant to at least one of the twelve statutory best interest factors, and must be of such magnitude to have a significant effect on the child’s well-being, and, when a movant has demonstrated such proper cause, the trial court can then engage in a reevaluation of the statutory best interest factors. Vodvarka v. Grasmeyer (2003) 675 N.W.2d 847, 259 Mich.App. 499Child Custody  554
  • Mother’s move to another town:   Mother’s move to another town almost 90 miles away was a sufficient change of circumstances to warrant trial court to entertain motion for change of custody filed by legal father of child born out of wedlock; move had or could have had a significant effect on five-year-old child’s life. Sinicropi v. Mazurek (2006) 729 N.W.2d 256, 273 Mich.App. 149
  • More than the normal life changes required:  Not just any change will suffice to establish a change in circumstances warranting modification of child custody; the evidence must demonstrate something more than the normal life changes (both good or bad) that occur during the life of a child, and there must be at least some evidence that the material changes have had or will almost certainly have an effect on the child. Killingbeck v. Killingbeck (2005) 711 N.W.2d 759, 269 Mich.App. 132.
  • Mother convicted of third-degree child abuse:  Father seeking change of custody of out-of-wedlock child established “proper cause” necessary to revisit order awarding custody of child to mother, in paternity proceeding; mother had been convicted of third-degree child abuse, she had lost custody of two of her other children, she was exhibiting inappropriate behavior toward father, and she was attempting to prohibit father from visiting child.Vodvarka v. Grasmeyer (2003) 675 N.W.2d 847, 259 Mich.App. 499

It is also important to note that proper cause and change of circumstances cannot be old news.  A court will only consider changes that have taken place since the entry of the last child custody order.

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I have been exclusively practicing divorce and family law in Michigan for over two decades.  The attorneys at Findling Law all share the core value of practicing law to help people navigate change in their lives, without compromising principles.  We specialize in high socio-economic, high-profile and high-conflict cases, while also working with clients of all backgrounds. We recognize that the most important aspect of the practice of law is the application of the law to your specific circumstances.

That is why we provide more free information on divorce and family law than any other Michigan law firm. We want to help you manage your situation. Allow our exceptional legal team to help you navigate the change in your life, without compromising principles.

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