On September 21, 2017, the Michigan Court of Appeals reviewed the case of Christopher Gucwa v. Maranda Lee. Miranda asked the Court of Appeals to review the dismissal of her Motion to change custody.
A Motion is a term of art used in the legal profession to ask the court to do something and Miranda recently changed the primary residences of her daughter from Capac, Michigan to Lincoln Park, Michigan, which is why she filed the motion to change custody.
While there is nothing illegal about changing residences, Michigan law does prohibit a parent from moving with a child more than 100 miles or outside of the State of Michigan.
In the case of Gucwa v. Lee, the trial court referred the Motion to change custody to the Friend of the Court which conducted a hearing, but apparently no record was made and the motion was dismissed. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court indicating that the trial court failed to follow the appropriate procedures in determining a motion to change custody. Which begs the question, what are the proper procedures.
The Michigan Child Custody Act of 1970 provides that:
“[i]f custody has been established by court order, the court shall order an investigation [by the friend of the court] only if the court first finds that proper cause has been shown or that there has been a change of circumstances.” MCL 552.505(1)(g)
So the first step in determining a motion to change custody is for the trial court (not the friend of the court) to determine if there is proper cause or a change of circumstances. In the Gucwa v. Lee case, the trial court got schooled by the Court of Appeals for referring the question of proper cause or a change of circumstances to the Friend of the Court without first making a determination itself.
MCL 722.27(c) is the statutory authority for a court to modify a custody decision, providing that a court may: “modify or amend its previous judgments or orders for proper cause or because of a change of circumstances”.
The leading case in deciding a motion to change custody is Vodvaka v. Grassmeyer which defines both proper cause and a change of circumstances and we have written a journal article on the topic covering all the major cases on the subject, a video webinar on filing a Motion to change custody in Michigan and a checklist on how to change custody in Michigan.
After the proper cause or change of circumstances is met, a court should consider the 12 best interest of the child factors in determining if the motion to change custody should be granted.
Every motion to change custody is unique because the facts and circumstances providing the basis (proper cause or a change of circumstances) are unique. For over 20 years we have been helping people navigate the system and we can help you understand the process and law. More importantly, we can help you obtain results. So if you are considering filing a motion to change custody and need help, consider our firm. It would be a privilege.
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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
Child custody appeal – What you can do if the court got it wrong.