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What is 'good cause' to change a child custody order?

Ask the Family Lawyer, by Jeanne M. HannahIn my last post, I talked about what is a "change in circumstances" that will justify a change in a child custody order. Today, I'll talk about "good cause" — the other grounds for modifying a prior custody or parenting time order. As I said earlier, every family's fact pattern is unique, and when making a decision, the court will apply the law to the specific facts of the family’s situation.

For this reason, I keep a large computer file that is filled with Michigan Court of Appeals or Supreme Court decisions cases. It's helpful if I can find a case with some similar facts so that I can use it to help the trial court see how the issue was resolved earlier. I often give my clients copies of these cases so they can see how the issues were resolved.

I don't have a crystal ball, and I cannot guarantee a result, but knowledge is power and what you don't know can hurt you. It helps parents put their case in perspective to see what could or should happen. (Sometimes, it helps them see that they cannot prevail — that they should save their money and time for a different battle or a more positive approach.)

Let's talk about what "good cause" might convince a court to change a custody order. In Roodvoets v Royce, decided June 26, 2007 by the Court of Appeals ("COA"), the court held that there was no evidence of a change in circumstances. On the other hand, the COA held that good cause did justify the change in the custody order — a change that further restricted the mother's time with the child.

The following is the evidence of "good cause" that the COA found persuasive:

The evidence offered during the evidentiary hearing included testimony from plaintiff and defendant and from three different mental health professionals.

Defendant testified that the issues that led to the change in custody are ongoing, and create ongoing stress for Emma. Defendant stated that Emma still cried after twice weekly phone calls with her mother, and he provided the court with an audio tape of a phone conversation between plaintiff and Emma (these were conversations taped by authority of a court order) during which Emma cried for eight to nine minutes. Defendant stated that plaintiff was typically 15 minutes to two hours late returning Emma after her parenting weekends.

Defendant testified that Emma had told him that on weekends with her mother, her mother still went to sleep with her and woke up with her. Defense counsel added that plaintiff had been advised, in 2001, that she should not sleep in the same bed with her then four-year-old child.

What should you take away from this decision? In order to further restrict parenting time (insert a requirement for supervision, for example), an argument may be made that despite the court's prior intervention, the other parent has continued in the conduct that was the grounds for the earlier modification of a custody order.

Read the entire Roodvoets v Royce decision »

Visit Jeanne Hannah’s website, traversecityfamilylaw.com, for additional resources on custody and parenting time issues. Don’t miss the Law Links page and the Articles page.

If you have a question about modifying custody or parenting time, feel free to leave a comment below. You can also email me jeannemhannah@charter.net or call me at 231-223-7864.

  • sandy

    Is there an organization or agency that will assist low income single women with custody issues?
    Is it required to have a lawyer represent you in custody issues?
    Are there any on line guides or books that you can recommend for me to fight for custody on my own?

    • http://traversecityfamilylaw.com Jeanne M Hannah

      Hello Sandy,

      There is no organization or agency that will normally assist low income single women with custody issues. It might be that you can get help from Legal Services of Northern Michigan. The contact information for this agency is http://www.lsnm.org , 207 W Grandview Pkwy # 103,
      Traverse City, MI 49684, (231) 941-0771 Usually LSNM only assists people who have domestic violence as a component of their family law case.

      You are not required to have a lawyer represent you in custody issues. The laws and the legal procedures are quite difficult, though.

      You can go to the law library in the courthouse at 328 Washington Street in Traverse City. I know that the library has a copy of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education’s 6th edition of “Michigan Family Law.” This 2-volume treatise has a chapter about child custody that you may find helpful. Other chapters may help you with some of the procedural issues.

      You will find a wealth of information on my website at http://traversecityfamilylaw.com. The blog linked there, “Updates in Michigan Family Law,” has been in existence since 2005. Look in the archives on the right-hand margin for articles about “child custody and parenting time.” Those articles will provide you with considerable information about how Michigan courts deal with child custody issues.

      Best of luck to you, Sandy. Jeanne M. Hannah

  • sandy

    Is there an organization or agency that will assist low income single women with custody issues?
    Is it required to have a lawyer represent you in custody issues?
    Are there any on line guides or books that you can recommend for me to fight for custody on my own?

  • http://traversecityfamilylaw.com Jeanne M Hannah

    Hello Sandy,

    There is no organization or agency that will normally assist low income single women with custody issues. It might be that you can get help from Legal Services of Northern Michigan. The contact information for this agency is http://www.lsnm.org , 207 W Grandview Pkwy # 103,
    Traverse City, MI 49684, (231) 941-0771 Usually LSNM only assists people who have domestic violence as a component of their family law case.

    You are not required to have a lawyer represent you in custody issues. The laws and the legal procedures are quite difficult, though.

    You can go to the law library in the courthouse at 328 Washington Street in Traverse City. I know that the library has a copy of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education's 6th edition of “Michigan Family Law.” This 2-volume treatise has a chapter about child custody that you may find helpful. Other chapters may help you with some of the procedural issues.

    You will find a wealth of information on my website at http://traversecityfamilylaw.com. The blog linked there, “Updates in Michigan Family Law,” has been in existence since 2005. Look in the archives on the right-hand margin for articles about “child custody and parenting time.” Those articles will provide you with considerable information about how Michigan courts deal with child custody issues.

    Best of luck to you, Sandy. Jeanne M. Hannah

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