Michigan Supreme Court Botches Domicile Analysis by Misapplying Family Law to Auto Accident Case | Speaker Law
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Michigan Supreme Court Botches Domicile Analysis by Misapplying Family Law to Auto Accident Case

Posted on Monday, May 14, 2018

To decide a child's domicile for purposes of insurance coverage under the No-Fault Act, MCL 500.3114(1), the Michigan Supreme Court turned to family law in Grange Insurance v Lawrence (Docket 145206 & 145808) (authored by Justice Mary Beth Kelly). Putting aside the fact that the No-Fault Act should define domicile for purposes of insurance coverage, and not domestic relations law, the Michigan Supreme Court misapplied family law tenets to conclude that the child at issue (fatally injured in an automobile accident) was domiciled in one parent's home rather than in the homes of both her parents who shared custody. To reach into family law, the Court reasoned: the Legislature’s use of the term “domiciled,” evinces an intent to incorporate all those common-law legal concepts related to that term, including the law of domicile as it relates to minors more fully addressed below." First, the Court spends a great deal of time analyzing the "common law" of domicile as it pertains to family law, even though the Child Custody Act governs, not common law. Then when the Court finally turns to the Child Custody Act, the Court notes that even though the Child Custody Act allows a child to have residence with both parents, the child can only have one domicile. The Court then says that the domicile is established only by the custody determination of the family court. Essentially, the Court holds that it is impossible for a child to have a domicile in the home of both parents, even if the family court ordered "joint custody" or even if the parties have equal parenting time, such as a week-on/week-off arrangement.

The Court did address that situation where the parties, by court order, have "shared physical custody" and equally share parenting time, and concluded that in that scenario, the child's domicile would change depending on whose house she was at for that parenting time. At least three justices on the Michigan Supreme Court questioned the majority's approach. (Zahra, Markman, and McCormick, concurring). The concurring opinion commented that the majority opinion "falls short of addressing the practical realities of post-divorce familial relationships." In doing so, the concurring opinion concluded that a family court order establishes a rebuttable presumption of the child's domicile. The court should consider factors relevant to the child's domicile, such as "where the child goes to school, where the majority of the child’s belongings are kept, and the address used to register the child for functions." The concurring opinion also has problems. For example, its says the majority opinion forces the insurance company to examine custody orders, rather than simply asking the insured who resides with them. By the same token, the Court's opinion will also force family law judges and attorneys to consider "domicile" for purposes of the No-Fault Act since apparently the custody orders will be a decisive factor in the event the children are involved in an auto accident.

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