A compelling question often arises when a biological parent dies and the other parent, having established parentage, but not having an established custodial environment with the minor child(ren), seeks primary custody. This arises most often in the context of the child or children having primarily lived with the mother and/or maternal grandparents. In Frowner v Smith, the Michigan Court of Appeals has given a fresh look at what this scenario looks like in the context of the holdings in Heltzel v Heltzel and Hunter v Hunter.
On April 26, 2012, the Court of Appeals (COA) released an opinion for publication in Frowner v Smith. In the Frowner case, after the mother died, the father--an acknowledged father--sought custody from the maternal grandparents. The seminal issue was whether a biological parent has to satisfy the Vodvarka threshold--i.e., to show a major change in circumstances or good cause--to change custody from a third party custodian after the death of the other biological parent.