The plaintiff-mother was properly awarded sole custody of the parties’ child and the defendant-father was correctly ordered to continue supervised parenting time, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in Ploski v Wisz.
The Oakland County Circuit Court had granted the plaintiff sole custody of the parties’ child and had limited the defendant to supervised parenting time. The defendant appealed that decision. The Court of Appeals, in a December 2018 order, remanded the case and instructed the trial court to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether: 1) a change of circumstances existed to warrant review of the custody order, 2) an established custodial environment existed and 3) a change in custody was in the child’s best interests.
On remand, the trial court ruled it was in the child’s best interests for the plaintiff to have sole custody. It also ordered that the defendant continue with supervised parenting time.
The defendant again appealed. He raised several arguments, including:
The Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s arguments and affirmed the trial court’s decision in an unpublished opinion. Judges Michael J. Kelly, Karen M. Fort Hood and Brock A. Swartzle were on the panel that issued the decision.
Proper Cause & Best-Interest Factors
On appeal, the defendant claimed the trial court’s decision regarding proper cause or change in circumstances was erroneous. Among other things, he challenged the timeliness of the evidence considered by the trial court.
The Court of Appeals rejected the timeliness argument, noting the defendant basically asserted that proper cause had to exist at the time the plaintiff filed the motion to change custody. “When a trial court considers a proper cause or change of circumstances, the only timeliness requirement is that the threshold be established before the trial court considers changing the previous custody order. … [W]e have never held that the parties and the trial court must be aware, at the time the motion was filed, of all evidence supporting a conclusion that the threshold has been reached. Defendant admits in his brief on appeal that no such case law exists. Because defendant’s argument regarding timeliness is not supported in the law, it is without merit.”
The defendant further claimed the trial court’s decision was against the great weight of the evidence. “The record supports a conclusion that the driving force behind defendant’s decision to record [the child’s] therapy had nothing to do with [the child’s] mental health and everything to do with defendant’s personal vendetta against Dr. Waldron,” the Court of Appeals wrote. “In light of [the child’s] obvious and significant need for proper guidance and mental-health care, defendant’s actions were relevant to [the child’s] best interests and had the possibility of significantly harming [the child’s] well-being. We conclude that the trial court’s factual findings were not against the great weight of the evidence and its application of law was not clearly erroneous.”
In addition to finding proper cause, the trial court had ruled there was a change in circumstances warranting a review of the previous custody order. “The trial court relied on evidence that defendant had abandoned all pretense of coparenting and caring about [the child’s] health, and instead had focused on his anger at plaintiff and others,” the Court of Appeals said. “By doing so, defendant thrust [the child] into the middle of the parties’ dispute, which caused the child significant mental distress. … Therefore, the trial court’s factual findings that a change of circumstances existed that warranted a review of the previous custody order were not against the great weight of the evidence and its application of law was not clearly erroneous.”
Next, the Court of Appeals addressed the defendant’s assertion that the trial court’s findings regarding the best-interest factors in the Child Custody Act were against the great weight of the evidence and that the trial court erred in applying the law.
Specifically, the defendant maintained the trial court’s assessment and findings were erroneous as to the best-interest factors in MCL 722.23(b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (j) and (l).
The Court of Appeals rejected each of the defendant’s arguments. “On review of the record, we discern no grounds for reversal,” the appellate panel said.
Supervised Parenting Time
The defendant also argued the trial court erred because its limitation on his parenting time amounted to a change in physical custody and, as a result, the trial court failed to consider the best-interest factors, as required by law.
“Defendant is correct that a parenting-time change that results in a change of custody requires a trial court to ‘explicitly address the best interest factors in MCL 722.23,’” the Court of Appeals said, citing Shade v Wright, 291 Mich App 17 (2010). “Defendant is incorrect, however, in asserting that the trial court failed to do so in this case. As discussed earlier in this opinion, the trial court engaged in a lengthy analysis of the best-interest factors as required by Shade.”
Moreover, the Court of Appeals said it was appropriate for the trial court to find that the defendant violated parenting-time rules and court orders, causing the child to suffer mental distress, and to apply that finding to affect his parenting time.
“Lastly,” the Court of Appeals said, “defendant argues that the trial court failed to consider that it was the supervised parenting time itself that was causing [the child’s] distress. Defendant reasons that there could be no explanation for [the child’s] mental distress other than the requirement that his parenting time with defendant be supervised. The record included evidence regarding the causes of [the child’s] increased mental health problems – defendant’s behavior. The trial court appropriately limited defendant’s parenting time where unsupervised parenting time ‘would endanger the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health.’”