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Change of Circumstances or Good Cause Required to Revisit Custody Defined

04th June 2017
By Cameron Goulding in Legal
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I am a divorce lawyer in Auburn Hills, Oakland County, Michigan. My office is easily accessible to Rochester, Clarkston, Holly, Oxford, Troy, Lake Orion and Bloomfield.

If a parent is seeking to alter physical custody, whether from sole custody to joint custody or switching custody entirely, then the court must first find that there has been a change of circumstances or good cause before it may revisit custody. If the court does find by clear and convincing evidence that there has been such a change or there is good cause, then the court will analyze the ďbest interest factorsĒ to determine whether it should grant the requested modification.

The Issue

How does the court define change of custody or good cause when it comes to modification of pre-existing court orders?

The Answer

The matter of Hale v Hale, COA 323899, March 17, 2015, (Unpublished), provides a good example of how the court will analyze this situation. In that case, the mother presented an order allowing her to move to Texas which was allegedly signed by the father. The father appeared before the court and claimed that the mother forged his signature and that he did not approve of the move. The father also moved the court to change custody to him. The court held hearings, granted the motherís motion and denied the fatherís motion to change custody.


The father appealed the decision and while the appeal was pending, he filed a police report regarding the alleged forgery. This resulted in the Lapeer County Sheriffís Department issuing a warrant for the motherís arrest as a third habitual offender based on two prior felony convictions. The father then refiled his motion to change custody and the divorce court held a hearing on this motion. It denied his motion to change custody without analyzing the best interests of the children because the father failed to prove good cause or a change of circumstances sufficient to revisit custody.

The court determined that to show a change of circumstances, the party must prove that conditions surrounding custody of the child which have or could have a significant effect on the childís well-being have materially changed. Not just any change will do. A material change must be something other than the normal life changes that accompany a childís growth and development. There must be at least some evidence that the material changes have had or will almost certainly have an effect on the child.


Proper cause means that one or more grounds exist that have or could have a significant effect on the childís life to the extent that a reevaluation of the childís custodial situation should be undertaken. The party seeking the modification must establish the existence of one or more appropriate grounds for legal action. The grounds should be relevant to the best interest factors and must be of such magnitude to have a significant effect on the childís well-being.

In this case, the father claimed the warrant issued for the mother as a third habitual offender was the change of circumstances. However, the two prior convictions occurred in 1992 and 1993, before the court issued the original custody order and the most recent custody order allowing her change domicile. The alleged forgery of the fatherís signature on the order also occurred prior to the most recent custody order.

That left only issuance of the warrant for the motherís arrest. This in itself was not sufficient. The fatherís concern that the children would witness the motherís arrest or that the children would be left without a parent if she is jailed was speculative. The motherís criminal defense lawyer advised the court that the prosecutor agreed that he would release the mother on bond. To address the fatherís concerns that the mother might eventually be jailed after a trial on the forgery count, the court found that if that did occur the father could renew his motion.

Summation

It is clear that there is a stringent standard applied to a motion for a change of custody. It is also clear that any change of circumstances must be based on events that occurred after the entry of the most recent custody order. Custody will typically only be disrupted in the most serious of cases.
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