Change in Circumstances: Children Moving In With the Other Parent is Significant

Case Discussed:

Petty v. Arnold

MiLW No. 08-90195

Michigan Court of Appeals - Unpublished Case

Two unmarried parents whose contentious relationship ultimately doomed their co-parenting efforts sought relief from the Court. The trial court ultimately found that the Defendant/Mother would have sole physical custody over the parties' teenage child, who the parties would continue to jointly exercise legal custody. The Plaintiff/Father had previously held sole physical custody over his daughter, but a physical altercation and the child moving out of the house with his consent resulted in the Court finding that a significant change of circumstances had occurred. The Court also found that an established custodial environment with both parents existed for the child. The Court found that the Defendant/Mother holding sole physical custody over the parties' child was in the child's best interests in light of the change of circumstances.

What to take away from this case?

The Court clearly found that the Plaintiff/Father's consent to his daughter moving in with mom was indicative of what was best for the child. The case may have been decided differently had the Plaintiff/Father not given consent for his child to live with her mother full-time.

While the Michigan Court of Appeals (MCA) did not discuss the physical altercation between the Plaintiff/Father and the child in any detail, it appears that the trial court did hear significant testimony from the Defendant/Mother about the incident. The MCA also referenced the Mother and Father's testimony that the child moved into the Defendant/Mother's house immediately following the altercation. It appears that evidence of a physical fight between an adult man and a 13-year old teenage girl did, in some manner, catch the attention of the trial court.

Closing Thoughts

  • Voluntarily surrender of physical custody and parenting time to the other parent may result in the trial court finding that a change of circumstances has occurred, giving rise to a best interests of the child analysis.

  • Fighting your children may be held against you in a custody modification hearing.

Full opinion available here, courtesy of

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