Trial Court Errs in Awarding Joint Custody


Case: Block v. Galbraith

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )

Judges: Per Curiam - Stephens, K.F. Kelly, and Murray

Issues:

Child custody dispute; The Child Custody Act (CCA) (MCL 722.21 et seq.); MCL 722.24(1); MCL 722.25(1); Eldred v. Ziny; Hunter v. Hunter; Best interests of the children; MCL 722.23; Harvey v. Harvey; Heltzel v. Heltzel; Spires v. Bergman; Foskett v. Foskett; The Estates & Protected Individuals Code (EPIC) (MCL 700.1101 et seq.); Proper cause or a change of circumstances; MCL 722.27(1)(c)

Summary:

Holding that the trial court erred by awarding the parties joint legal custody without first determining whether it was in the children’s best interests and by failing to give the parental presumption any weight, the court reversed and remanded. When the decedent-mother died in a car accident, the plaintiff-maternal grandfather and others sought custody. The defendant-father, who was incarcerated at the time, objected, claiming plaintiff lacked standing. The trial court eventually ordered co-guardianships to plaintiff and defendant’s mother, appellant-Giles. On appeal, the court noted that a “child custody dispute plainly existed and, therefore, the CCA governed the dispute,” and the trial had to resolve the matter in the children’s best interests. However, “the trial court awarded plaintiff and defendant joint legal custody of the children and expressly ‘made no finding pursuant to the’” CCA. Because it “failed to resolve the custody dispute ‘in accordance with the mandates set forth in MCL 722.23 and make reviewable findings of fact, the proper remedy is to remand for a new child custody hearing.’” The court rejected plaintiff’s argument that the trial court was not required to make findings under the CCA because its joint custody order was made in the guardianship proceedings, noting he presented “no authority suggesting that a court can award custody of a minor in a guardianship proceeding, which is governed by the [EPIC] without considering the factors set forth in the CCA. To the contrary, ‘the [CCA] is the “exclusive means” of pursuing child custody rights . . . .’” While it made “practical and good faith attempts at resolving the matter, the trial court could not bypass the CCA’s mandates by attributing its order of custody to the guardianship proceedings.” Finally, although it seemed “the trial court avoided making a finding under the CCA for the laudable purpose of allowing defendant to be able to seek physical custody of his children in the future without having to establish a proper cause or a change of circumstances, which is necessary for a court to modify or amend a previous judgment or order under the” CCA, it still “had a duty to resolve the child custody dispute ‘in the best interests of the child.’” That required it to consider all the factors in MCL 722.23 and explicitly state its findings and conclusions as to each one. It also required the trial court to “enforce the parental presumption contained in MCL 722.25(1).”

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