One of the distinct pleasures of being part of the State Bar of Michigan Family Law Section's Listserv is the ability to participate in the exchange of ideas about evolving Michigan law and policy in the area of Family Law. As you might expect, the members of the Listserv--at least 750 lawyers, judges and Friend of the Court employees--express differences of opinion from time to time. Usually these exchanges are diplomatic.
The other day, Scott Bassett posted an insightful analysis of the Derry case involving relocations. [You may read that here since Scott was a guest blogger on Updates in Michigan Family Law.] I've known Scott for about twenty years and know that he has structured his specialty practice in appellate family law around his family commitments, that he has an established successful career in the difficult and unique area of third-party custody and parenting time concerns.
In response to Scott's analysis, Kathleen Goetsch offered her view. While one would never say that either's opinion is right or wrong, it is true that some of these fact-specific cases do find people on one side of the fence or the other. One of the first things I tell a new client (right after I say: "Tell me everything. I can only help you if I know the whole story, the things that favor you and what the other side will use against you.") is this: Every family law case is unique. It is the specific facts of your case that will determine how the judge is going to decide your case within the framework that the law has provided.
Thus, responding to this comment by Scott: "The majority (Cavanagh and Talbot) vacated the decision because "It appears that this determination was based primarily on the involvement of the paternal extended family and the minor child’s friends in his life in Michigan." I find this interesting because these factors, at least to me, ought to be relevant to a change of domicile request. Indeed, if the evidence is strong enough on these factors, I can imagine cases where they should be dispositive, but apparently the majority on this panel thinks otherwise."
I respectfully disagree -- Assuming that the C of A report of the facts elicited at the trial court level are true and that the C of A did not leave out a lot of facts that were favorable to father -- I think the trial court got it very wrong.
I think one of the important things that we have to keep in mind - is that the United States is a very mobile nation. Families move routinely to either better their financial base or support base. And virtually every move involves modifying some relationships.
What I find troubling about the trial court's decision - is its reliance on the 15 year old child's relationship with extended family and friends. While that is a factor to be considered by parents when making a decision to move -- I seriously doubt it should be the be all and end all to the decision. Especially with communication what it is today -- with Skype, Twitter, e-mail and facebook -- you can have daily contact with all those friends and folks who are close to you. Its troubling that the trial judge in this case did not seem to consider the ease at which we can communicate today.
I am the product of a move during my "formative" years. When I was in 5th grade we moved from Detroit to Howell because of advancement of my father with his company. And trust me -- when we moved Howell was truly a rural town -- with little of the amnenities it enjoys today. The trauma of the move lasted for maybe a month or two for me -- but I made new friends quickly. I graduated from high school with friends who transferred (from out-of state) into our high school during their high school years. One of my friends had been in 9 different school systems by the 11th grade -- all because his father was being promoted and transferred.
Kids are the important thing -- they should not be treated differently because their parents choose to divorce. A child should not be made to stay behind -because he has friends and extended family, even though he expressed a desire to move, only because a trial judge seemed to decide that he knew better what the child wanted. What message does that send to the child? When that child is in college and has the opportunity to spend a summer in Japan or elsewhere for an internship -- will the child relate back to the "lesson" from the judge that being in close proximity to family is friends is more important than taking an opportunity?
As attorneys and jurists I think we have to look at the entire picture -- not just the "family" & the case. While it is sometimes easier to maintain the "status quo" that does not necessarily help children to overcome life's challenges.
Anyway that is my 2 cents.
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