On November 18, 2021, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an opinion addressing a motion to modify parenting time. In the case of Kuebler v. Kubeler the Court of Appeals distinguished between the Vodvarka threshold and the Shade threshold. Academically, the Vodvarka threshold addresses the threshold requirements to modify custody and the Shade addresses the threshold requirements to modify parenting time. This article will discuss the differences.
Michigan Compiled Laws section 722.27(1)(c) requires the person seeking to modify a custody or a parenting-time
first establish proper cause or a change of circumstances before the court may proceed to an analysis of whether the requested modification is in the child’s best interests.
Proper cause or change in circumstances is the threshold question that governs when a court can even consider a motion to modify parenting time. The most demanding standard, set forth in Vodvarka applies to requests to modify child custody.
. . .
[T]o 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.
[I]n order to establish a “change of circumstances,” a movant must prove that, sinceVodvarka vs. Grassmeyer
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. Again, not just any change will suffice, for over time there will
always be some changes in a child’s environment, behavior, and well-being.
Instead, 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. This too will be a determination made on the basis of
the facts of each case, with the relevance of the facts presented being gauged by the
statutory best interest factors.
In comparison to Vodvarka, the less stringent standards for showing proper cause or a
change in circumstances relative to a motion to modify parenting time are detailed Shade v Wright.
Shade v. Wright.
“Whereas the primary concern in child custody determinations is the stability of the child’s environment and avoidance of unwarranted and disruptive custody changes, the focus of parenting time is to foster a strong relationship between the child and the child’s parents.”
For these reasons, “normal life changes” that would not justify modifying custody may constitute proper cause or change of circumstances sufficient to support a motion to modify parenting time. Simply put, a motion to modify parenting time requires “a lesser, more flexible, understanding” of proper cause or change in circumstances that allows for modification for “ordinary changes in the parties’ behavior, status, or living conditions.”
Although the threshold requirements to modify custody or a motion to modify parenting time go by the same names, proper cause or a change of circumstance to change custody or modify parenting time have different meanings.
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