The seminal case in a Michigan custody modification case is Vodvarka vs. Grasmeyer which defines the threshold requirements to change custody. The threshold requirements are proper cause or change of circumstances. Under Michigan law, without establishing either proper cause or a change of circumstance, you cannot modify an award of child custody.
In Vodvarka, the mother and father met one night in 2001 and conceived a minor child. The parties have not had any further relationship between the one night stand and the court hearing. After genetic testing confirmed that the father was the child, the prosecutor filed an order establishing the father was the legal father of the child with “reasonable parenting time” and awarded the mother custody and child support. The father immediately filed a custody modification motion which challenged the award of custody to the mother.
The requirement that a party seeking a custody modification must first establish proper cause or a change of circumstances emanates from the Child Custody Act, MCL 722.21 et seq. Specifically, MCL 722.27(1)(c) provides that if a child custody dispute has arisen from another action in the circuit court, the court may “[m]odify or amend its previous judgments or orders for proper cause shown or because of change of circumstances․”
Vodvarka became the seminal case on custody modification because the Michigan Court of Appeals provided the clearest definitions of proper cause or change of circumstances.
Custody Modification – The initial burden.
Before you can argue a motion for custody modification you must meet the initial burden of proof of proper cause or change of circumstances. Without meeting the the initial burden of establishing either proper cause or a change of circumstances, the trial court is not authorized by statute to revisit an otherwise valid prior custody decision and engage in a reconsideration of the statutory best interest factors.
What is sufficient “proper cause” for custody modification?
The Vodvarka court provides the best answer:
“. . . to establish “proper cause” necessary to revisit a 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. When a movant has demonstrated such proper cause, the trial court can then engage in a reevaluation of the statutory best interest factors.” .
What “proper cause” evidence is considered for custody modification?
The Vodvarka once again provides the best answer:
“. . .The phrase “proper cause” is not by the words themselves tied to a change in events as is “change of circumstances.” Rather, proper cause is geared more toward the significance of the facts or events or, as stated earlier, the appropriateness of the grounds offered. However, we believe a party would be hard-pressed to come to court after a custody order was entered and argue that an event of which they were aware (or could have been aware of) before the entry of the order is thereafter significant enough to constitute proper cause to revisit the order.”
What is sufficient “change of circumstances” for custody modification?
The Vodvarka court provides:
“. . .we hold that in order to establish a “change of circumstances: ”. . . a movant [the person filing the motion] 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.”
What is sufficient “change of circumstances” evidence for custody modification?
The Vodvarka court provides:
“ . . .Because a “change of circumstances” requires a “change,” the circumstances must be compared to some other set of circumstances. And since the movant is seeking to modify or amend the prior custody order, it is evident that the circumstances must have changed since the custody order at issue was entered. Of course, evidence of the circumstances existing at the time of and before entry of the prior custody order will be relevant for comparison purposes, but the change of circumstances must have occurred after entry of the last custody order. As a result, the movant cannot rely on facts that existed before entry of the custody order to establish a “change” of circumstances.”
Before filing a custody modification motion, it is important to understand the threshold requirement of “proper cause” or a “change of circumstance” and the Vodvarka vs. Grasmeyer case is the seminal case on point. If you would like assistance in pursuing a custody modification in Michigan, our specialists can help you navigate the situation and create an action plan for success.
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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 are compassionate, creative and always prepared. 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.
By: Daniel Findling