In Michigan divorce and child custody cases, in order to modify parenting time, the party seeking the modification must show good cause or a change in circumstances. If a party is able to meet this threshold inquiry, then the a court must hold a mini-trial (known as an evidentiary hearing) focused specifically on whether the modification is in the best interests of the child before it can order a modification or deny the request for the modification. However, conditions and certain restrictions on parenting time or the removal thereof, typically do not require an evidentiary hearing for the judge to enter an order regarding the imposition or removal of the restrictions.
In the recent case of Ludwig v Ludwig, (a case that originated in the Oakland County Circuit Court), the trial court entered an order for the father, whose parenting time was suspended, and the children, to participate in a six-month reunification process. The court ordered the children and the father to first engage in a video conference under the supervision of two therapists. Then following the video conference, the frequency, duration and method of continued contact would be at the therapists' discretion. The Court of Appeals affirmed this decision but the Michigan Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Oakland County Circuit Court for an evidentiary hearing.
The court appeared concerned that this was not simply removing some restriction or condition placed on the father's parenting time, but rather was a modification of the father's parenting time. Further, the Supreme Court seemed bothered that the trial court gave "unfettered" discretion to the therapists to determine the continuing contact with the children for the first six months after the initial conference. The order could potentially allow the father to have a significant amount of parenting time which would be a modification that was suspended before the entry of the order for reunification. It seems that the manner in which this reunification order was handled created the greatest problem for the trial court. Maybe, it would have been a different outcome if the court had ordered the reunification process to begin, but that any actual parenting time recommended by the therapists would have to be reviewed by the court. This would keep the control over the actual parenting time within the discretion of the court, but still allow the process to start and provide the relevant input from the therapists.