If you're coparenting after a divorce, you're not entirely in charge of your own decisions about where you live—or at least where you can move with the children. In Michigan, as in most places, public policy favors both parents' involvement in a child's life, which means that there are restrictions on when (and how far) custodial parents can move away with a child.
The relocation rule doesn't mean you can never move with your child, however. Your right to relocate depends on your custody arrangement and how far away you want to move.
The 100-Mile Rule
If you share joint custody with the other parent, Michigan law permits you to move up to 100-miles away (you must stay in Michigan) from where you lived at the time the court entered the original custody order. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.31.)
Nonetheless, you may face resistance from your child's other parent if you move far enough away to make your current parenting schedule difficult to keep. The law does not place any restrictions on a parent who wishes to relocate closer to the child's other parent.
For example, let's say you want to move 91 miles away from your child's legal residence. Under the law, you do not need the other parent's consent or the court's approval to do so (you must update the child's address with the court, however.) If the new distance makes transitions between the parents' homes too difficult for parenting time, however, then the other parent could request a change in custody or parenting time to accommodate the longer distance.
Measuring the Distance
The law measures the 100-mile distance between your child's two legal residences. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.31 (1).) A child whose parents have joint custody has two legal residences: the address where each parent lived when the custody proceedings began. If you and the other spouse lived together or if one of you was without a home when custody proceedings began, then your child has only one legal residence. Incidentally, this 100-mile distance is not a 100-mile radius. In other words, you have to stay within 100 miles by road travel, not as the crow flies.
Once you reach the 100-mile threshold, you must get the other parent's consent or the court's approval to move. You'll have a much easier time if you can get the other parent's consent. Then, you need only to get this consent in writing and notify the court of your plans, typically by filing a stipulation.
If the other parent doesn't consent, you will need to file a formal petition to the court requesting permission to move. The court will determine whether allowing you to relocate would be in the child's best interests, considering the following factors:
There are two exceptions to the 100-mile rule. First, if you and the other parent lived more than 100 miles apart when custody proceedings began, then you do not need to get the court's approval to move an even greater distance, as long as you stay in Michigan. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.31 (3).)
Second, if you are under threat of domestic violence, then you do not need the other parent's consent or the approval of the court before you move. You are free to go without permission as far as you need to seek a safe location—and you can bring your child too. Still, you must notify the court of your new legal residence. The court can keep your information confidential so the abusive parent can't find you.
If you've moved due to domestic violence, you'll still need to have the court's permission to stay there. The court will evaluate your case and the factors listed above to determine whether your new residence is acceptable. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.31 (6).)
The rules change if you have sole legal custody of your child. If you do not share legal custody with anyone, then you are free to move anywhere within the state, as long as you give the court your new address. You do not need the court's approval or the other parent's permission. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.31 (2).)
You must get permission from the court before moving out of Michigan, regardless of your custody arrangement or the distance from your child's legal residence to the state line. If you have sole legal custody, moving for the reason that is good for you and your child—like a better job opportunity or desire to be closer to family—is likely to get the court's approval. Your ability to move out of state when you share joint custody, however, depends on the court's evaluation of the factors listed above.
Considering all the factors, if a move would allow for a better quality of life—often meaning better pay, schools, or family contact—and you can show cooperation between the parents in caring for the child, fairness in child support, and a reasonable opportunity for the other parent to maintain parenting time, then the court may let you go.
However, courts generally do not favor a custodial parent's move when it reduces the other parent's visitation time. In fact, the court can deny your request if it would be too hard on the relationship between the child and the other parent, even if every other factor supports your move.
If you are the custodial parent and are moving out of the area, plan to allow more visitation time to the other parent. Extended parenting time may include some, if not all, of the summer vacation, holidays, and other school breaks. Also, the court may require you to pay any travel expenses for visitation that are made necessary by your move.
As with any custody or parenting time case in Michigan, the court's primary focus is what's best for the child. In addition to the above-listed factors, the court may also evaluate "best interest factors" before deciding to allow or deny relocation.
One of the factors the judge will consider is the child's preference, but only if the child is old enough and mature enough to express an opinion. During the hearing for relocation, the court will determine whether it is necessary to speak with the child. Even still, the child's preference is only one of many factors the court must consider when deciding custody, parenting time, and relocation. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.23.)
You can find the legal residence change law in the Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL) Section 722.31. The law requiring the court's approval for out-of-state moves is in the Michigan Court Rules (MCR) 3.211(c). You can find the factors in determining the best interests of a child for a change of custody in Michigan Compiled Laws Section 722.23.
If you would like to read a case dealing with a move out of state, read Brown v. Loveman, 680 NW 2d 432 (2004).