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Michigan Choice of school law. The nitty gritty details.

Most divorce and custody cases include an award of joint legal custody. As a joint legal custodian, both parents share equally in major decisions involving a minor child and one of those major decisions is the choice of school a child should attend. If a dispute arises, here are the nitty gritty details on choice of school cases and law in Michigan.

Michigan Choice of School Law

Michigan Choice of School law – The Seminal case.

The seminal choice of school case in Michigan is Pierron v Pierron. In Pierron, the Judgment of Divorce awarded parents joint legal custody. The ex-wife moved from Grosse Pointe (where the child was attending school) to Howell and the trial court ordered that the child remain in Gross Pointe Schools and the Wife appealed.

Michigan Choice of School law – The importance of joint legal custody

Where the parties share joint legal custody, they must agree on decisions affecting the welfare of the child. Choice of school is a decision affecting the welfare of the child. Bowers v. Vandermeulen-Bowers, 278 Mich. App. 287 (2008). If a party has sole legal custody he/she can decide without input from the other party.

Michigan Choice of School law – The Lombardo hearing.

If the parties have a disagreement as to an important legal custody decision (such as choice of school), either party can petition the court and the court will make a determination using the best interest factors as a guide. Lombardo v. Lombardo, 202 Mich. App. 151, 507 N.W.2d 788 (1993).  

Michigan Choice of School law – The Established Custodial Environment

The established custodial environment is the environment in which “over an appreciable time the child naturally looks to the custodian in that environment for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort.”  MCL 722.27(1)(c).

If change (in school) does not constitute a change in established custodial environment, the moving party must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a change (in school) is in the child’s best interests.  If change (in school) does constitute a change in established custodial environment, the moving party must prove by clear and convincing evidence that a change (in school) is in the child’s best interests.

Michigan Choice of School law – The Best Interest of the child factors.

When a trial court is considering a choice of school decision, it must consider the applicability of all of the best interest of the Child factors, however, if the trial court determines that a particular factor is irrelevant to the immediate issue, it need not make substantive factual findings concerning the factor beyond this determination, but need merely state that conclusion on the record.  Pierron v Pierron, 486 Mich. 81 (2010).

The best interest of the child factors are 12 factors defined by the legislature that the court must consider when deciding cases involving child custodyparenting time, choice of school and guardianship cases. 

MCL 722.23 lists twelve (12) best interest factors. The factors are as follows:

  • Factor (a) The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
  • Factor (b) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any.
  • Factor (c) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs.
  • Factor (d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
  • Factor (e) The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
  • Factor (f) The moral fitness of the parties involved.
  • Factor (g) The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
  • Factor (h) The home, school, and community record of the child.
  • Factor (i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child of sufficient age
  • Factor (j) The willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parents.
  • Factor (k) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.        
  • Factor (l) Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.
  • Since a choice of school

It is typical for the majority of the best interest factor to have little relevancy to a choice of school case. Notwithstanding, careful consideration should be given to arguing each best interest factors using evidence such as standardized test scores, school rankings, class size, attendance records, parental involvement and availability, the existing relationships with the child and his/her friends and classmates etc. So the court can conclude:

“After analyzing all best interest factors, it should be clear that the proposed change of school district is (or is not) in the best interest of the child.”

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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.

By:  Daniel Findling

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