Sometimes parents need or want to move. Michigan requires a parent who wants to move his or her children to prove it is in the family's best interest. This statute specifically states that the children are the primary focus in determining their best interests. The statute applies to a move greater than 100 miles, regardless of whether the move is within the state. If there is domestic violence, the statute allows a move to a safe location pending the court's determination.
There are five factors the court must consider when ruling on moving minor child(ren) beyond the 100-mile limit:
(a) Whether the legal residence change has the capacity to improve the quality of life for both the child and the relocating parent. Typically, it is a job opportunity with increased income that motivates the move. Depending on the financial situation of the family, this may increase the child's quality of life. The prospective new income should be considered as it will relate to the child (if all of the child's needs are already met, will the new income increase the quality of life?) and should be weighed against the increasing cost of travel for parenting time and the relative cost of living in Michigan as opposed to the proposed location. In addition, the court may look at the pay rate for similar jobs in this area. The court may consider whether the schools or the extracurricular activities are comparable, any specialized medical care, and social ties. The uncertainty of new circumstances must be weighed against the desirability of maintaining the child's current situation.
The presence of extended family in the proposed area must be weighed against the presence of a parent in Michigan. The history of involvement, as opposed to the Michigan parent's willingness and ability to provide the same sort of assistance as that proposed by the out-of-state family should be weighed.
(b) The degree to which each parent has complied with, and utilized his or her time under, a court order governing parenting time with the child, and whether the parent's plan to change the child's legal residence is inspired by that parent's desire to defeat or frustrate the parenting time schedule. The court must consider whether the petitioning parent's motive is inspired by a desire to frustrate the other parent's parenting time.
(c) The degree to which the court is satisfied that, if the court permits the legal residence change, it is possible to order a modification of the parenting time schedule and other arrangements governing the child's schedule in a manner that can provide an adequate basis for preserving and fostering the parental relationship between the child and each parent; and whether each parent is likely to comply with the modification.
This is a very fact-intensive analysis. A child who sees each parent each week will have a difficult time replicating that relationship long-distance. A child who sees one parent monthly, however, may be able to replicate that relationship long-distance. The court has held that "the new visitation plan need not be equal to the prior visitation plan in all respects. It only need provide a realistic opportunity to preserve and foster the parental relationship previously enjoyed by the [non-relocating] parent."
The first step is to assess the quality of the relationship before the move between the child and the nonmoving parent. This analysis should include the frequency of contact, reliability, attachment, quality, and quantity of care provided, and whether the parent participates in all aspects of child rearing. The degree to which each parent has complied with and utilized his or her time under a court order governing parenting time with the child is one factor the court must consider in a move-away petition.
The second step is to look at the developmental age of the child. A child's ability to cope with the move and to maintain a relationship with the nonmoving parent will often vary dramatically based on the age and stage of development of the child.
There is significant research on the developmental needs of very young children and the process of attachment to significant figures in his or her lives. Children form significant attachments in the first five years, and they do this through frequent contact with competent caregivers. Very young children do not have the ability to remember adults whom they do not see on a regular basis. Adolescents can manage longer separations from either parent and may travel long distances more easily; they may be unhappy about leaving home, however, and may have strong opinions about the move. An adolescent's opinion about the move could carry significant weight.
(d) The extent to which the parent opposing the legal residence change is motivated by a desire to secure a financial advantage with respect to a support obligation.
The Michigan Supreme Court has stated that "it is imperative that a court consider the feasibility of this plan from a practical and financial viewpoint," and that "the court should ... consider the age of the child ... for judging the feasibility of travel and analyze what financial constraints would be placed on the parents."
(e) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.