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Yachcik v. Yachcik

Court of Appeals of Michigan

February 28, 2017

STEPHANI LARA YACHCIK, also known as STEPHANI LARA WALLEN, Plaintiff-Appellant,

         Alpena Circuit Court Family Division LC No. 05-000157-DM

          Before: Hoekstra, P.J., and Saad and Riordan, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         Plaintiff appeals as of right the trial court order (1) denying her motion to change the minor child's domicile from Michigan to Pennsylvania and (2) providing that, if plaintiff moves to Pennsylvania, [1] she will be awarded the same parenting time that she had proposed for defendant in conjunction with her motion. We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


         Plaintiff and defendant married in June 2003. Their son, GY, was born during the first year of their marriage. The parties divorced in August 2005, agreeing to joint legal and physical custody of GY. After the divorce, both parties remained in the Alpena, Michigan area.

         A short time later, defendant began dating Christina LeTourneau. The couple began living together when GY was approximately two years old. Plaintiff also had her own relationships.

         In July 2012, plaintiff and defendant agreed to modify their parenting time arrangement so that each party would have parenting time on an alternating weekly basis. In August 2012, plaintiff married her current husband, Benjamin Wallen, who lives and works near the New York/Pennsylvania border. He searched for employment in Michigan, but was unable to find a job with health insurance benefits comparable to those through his out-of-state job, which cover ongoing treatment for a rare form of cancer with which he is afflicted. Wallen's work schedule provides four days off every other weekend, which gives him an opportunity to visit plaintiff and GY in Michigan once every month or month and a half. Occasionally, plaintiff and GY have visited Wallen in Pennsylvania as well.

         In January 2016, plaintiff filed a motion to change the child's domicile to Pennsylvania. She explained that she had found a job there, [2] and that she and her husband could save thousands of dollars in living expenses each year if they could consolidate their households and no longer pay for separate residences. She also proposed a parenting time schedule under which GY would stay with plaintiff and Wallen during the school year and visit defendant in Michigan "for Thanksgiving break, one week of Christmas break, spring break, and 10 weeks of summer break."

         Defendant opposed the motion, contending that the move would not be beneficial to the child. He also requested that the trial court award him primary physical custody if plaintiff moves to Pennsylvania and ensure that the parenting time schedule is consistent with the best interests of the child if plaintiff moves away from the Alpena area.

         The trial court held a hearing on plaintiff's motion in May 2016, taking testimony from plaintiff; Wallen; defendant; LeTourneau; the owner of the business that offered plaintiff a job in Pennsylvania; the director of admissions[3] from Notre Dame High School, a private Catholic school where plaintiff planned to send GY upon moving to Pennsylvania; and a Pennsylvania realtor who was working with plaintiff and Wallen. During her testimony, plaintiff proposed that defendant should receive parenting time during Thanksgiving break, half of Christmas break, all of spring break, and the entire summer break except for the first and last weeks if the court granted her motion. Plaintiff clearly indicated during the hearing that she intended to move to Pennsylvania regardless of the outcome of her motion to change the child's domicile. At the end of the hearing, the court took the matter under advisement, promising to issue a written opinion.

         The trial court's opinion and order summarized the factual and procedural background of the case and stated the following as its decision and reasoning:

MCL 722.31(4) controls the question of a legal residence change. That statutory provision requires this Court to determine whether the change in residence has the capacity to improve the quality of life for both the child and the relocating parent, but, placing primary focus on the child. It is clear from the testimony that [plaintiff's] life would improve greatly in both a financial sense and an emotional sense since her move to Pennsylvania would be uniting herself with her husband and gaining employment. But the proof involved with the improvement in the quality of life for [GY] is less clear. The Court is of the opinion that removing the child from this community where he has a large extended family into a community where he has no extended family is very much against his best interest. Additionally, the child has been going to the Alpena Public Schools since he became school[-aged] [and going] into a community where he knows not one so[ul] other than [plaintiff and Wallen] is also against his best interest. The proof concerning the superiority of the proposed school is not strong and fails to establish by a preponderance of evidence that the residence change has the capacity to improve the quality of life for the minor child.
For all of the foregoing reasons, this Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Change of Residence for the minor child. In the event that the Plaintiff moves from the area to the state of Pennsylvania she is to enjoy the same parenting time schedule for herself that she proposed for [defendant] at the hearing in this cause. If she does not leave this area, the Order of week on week off will control custody and parenting time. This Court FINDS that there has been an established custodial environment in both homes for the minor child.

         Subsequently, plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration, which the trial court denied.


         Pursuant to MCL 722.28, in child custody disputes, "all orders and judgments of the circuit court shall be affirmed on appeal unless the trial judge made findings of fact against the great weight of evidence or committed a palpable abuse of discretion or a clear legal error on a major issue." Accordingly, this Court reviews for an abuse of discretion a trial court's decision on whether to grant a motion for change of domicile and its decision on whether to change custody. Fletcher v Fletcher, 447 Mich. 871, 879-880; 526 N.W.2d 889 (1994); Sulaica v Rometty, 308 Mich.App. 568, 577; 866 N.W.2d 838 (2014). "In this context, an abuse of discretion exists when the result is so palpably and grossly violative of fact and logic that it evidences a perversity of will, a defiance of judgment, or the exercise of passion or bias." Sulaica, 308 Mich.App. at 577; see also Fletcher, 447 Mich. at 879-880.

         "In the child custody context, questions of law are reviewed for clear legal error. A trial court commits legal error when it incorrectly chooses, interprets, or applies the law." Sulaica, 308 Mich.App. at 577; see also Fletcher, 447 Mich. at 876-877. The trial court's findings of fact are reviewed under the great weight of the evidence standard. Fletcher, 447 Mich. at 878-879; see also Rains v Rains, 301 Mich.App. 313, 324; 836 N.W.2d 709 (2013). "This Court may not substitute [its] judgment on questions of fact unless the facts clearly preponderate in the opposite direction. However, where a trial court's findings of fact may have been influenced by an incorrect view of the law, our review is not limited to clear error." Rains, 301 Mich.App. at 324-325 (quotation marks and citations omitted; alteration in original).

         "This Court reviews de novo the proper interpretation and application of statutes and court rules." Brecht v Hendry, 297 Mich.App. 732, 736; 825 N.W.2d 110 (2012).

A court's primary goal when interpreting a statute is to discern legislative intent first by examining the plain language of the statute. Courts construe the words in a statute in light of their ordinary meaning and their context within the statute as a whole. A court must give effect to every word, phrase, and clause, and avoid an interpretation that renders any part of a statute nugatory or surplusage. Statutory provisions must also be read in the context of the entire act. It is presumed that the Legislature was aware of judicial interpretations of the existing law when passing legislation. When statutory language is clear and unambiguous, courts enforce the language as written. [Lee v Smith, 310 Mich.App. 507, 509; 871 N.W.2d 873 (2015) (citations omitted).]

         Additionally, it is important to keep in mind the following principles in this case:

Statutory language should be construed reasonably, keeping in mind the purpose of the act. The purpose of judicial statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature. In determining the Legislature's intent, we must first look to the language of the statute itself. Moreover, when considering the correct interpretation, the statute must be read as a whole. A statute must be read in conjunction with other relevant statutes to ensure that the legislative intent is correctly ascertained. The statute must be interpreted in a manner that ensures that it works in harmony with the entire statutory scheme. The Legislature is presumed to be familiar with the rules of statutory construction and, when promulgating new laws, to be aware of the consequences of its use or omission of statutory language, and to have considered the effect of new laws on all existing laws. [In re MKK, 286 Mich.App. 546, 556-557; 781 N.W.2d 132 (2009) (quotation marks and citations omitted).]


         Plaintiff first argues that the trial court erred by failing to consider four out of the five factors listed under MCL 722.31(4) when it decided plaintiff's motion for a change of domicile. We disagree.[4]

         Section 11 of the Child Custody Act ("CCA"), MCL 722.21 et seq., provides, in relevant part:

A child whose parental custody is governed by court order has, for the purposes of this section, a legal residence with each parent. Except as otherwise provided in this section, a parent of a child whose custody is governed by court order shall not change a legal residence of the child to a location that is more than 100 miles from the child's legal ...

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