New Michigan Case: Remarriage is Good Cause to Consider Modifying Parenting Time
In any divorce case involving children, custody and parenting time must be determined in some form or other. There are two types of custody, legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody is the type of custody that most people are familiar with and it deals with who has the child the majority of the time. However, physical custody has become blurred with parenting time and really lost much of its meaning. Parenting time refers to how the child's time is divided between the households, for instance it is not uncommon for one parent to have parenting time on Monday and Tuesday, the other parent on Wednesday and Thursday and both parties alternate weekends. This schedule is referred to as the parenting time schedule or just parenting time for short.
Sometimes, for one reason or another, after the parties' have separated and the court has issued a Judgment or other order for custody or parenting time, one party may want to change the schedule, but the other parent may disagree. In such instances, the party seeking to modify the parenting time must file a motion requesting that the judge grant an order to modify it.
First, the moving party must prove that there is a change of circumstances or good cause to even consider modifying the parenting time. If the judge determines that there is good cause or a change of circumstances, then the judge must hold an evidentiary hearing (a trial in front of the referee or judge regarding this specific issue) and determine whether the proposed modification is in the best interests of the child. Good cause or change of circumstances is a threshold issue or a hurdle that one must get over before the court has to grant the hearing, if one does not prove that, then the motion will be summarily dismissed.
Over the last several years, what constitutes sufficient cause or change has gone from being a relatively high threshold to a relatively low threshold. Ten years ago, a party had to prove that there was a serious issue that was not simply a normal life event and that would have a profound impact on the child. As time has gone by, the courts have decided that normal issues the child experiences growing up can be sufficient to require the court to schedule an evidentiary hearing. Then, the court found that removing conditions on parenting time or adding conditions on parenting time could be changed due to ordinary changes in the parents' behavior, status or living conditions. Finally, last month (July 24, 2018), the court applied the same lower standard regarding the application of conditions on parenting time to an actual modification of parenting time, not just adding or removing a condition on parenting time. The Michigan Court of Appeals, held, in a published opinion, specifically that the remarriage of the party seeking modification is good cause to require an evidentiary hearing.
Ten years ago, I would have advised a client seeking a modification of his or her parenting time based upon that party's own remarriage to forget about filing a motion. Today, due to the erosion of the good cause standard as it applies to parenting time, I would advise the client he or she has a decent basis for getting the case heard by the judge. Ironically, the good cause threshold is still very stringent with regards to custody however because the lines between parenting time and custody have been so blurred it can be very hard to determine whether a particular modification should be treated as a change of custody or a change of parenting time. If you have any questions regarding custody, parenting time, divorce or other family law issues, please do not hesitate to schedule an appointment by calling 248-608-4123 or emailing us