Levine & Levine attorney, Rachel Gruetzner, wrote a series of summaries of recently published and unpublished cases for the State Bar of Michigan’s Family Law Journal – January 2019 issue.
As a member of the State Bar Family Law Council Amicus Committee member, Gruetzner’s published work includes cases about the eligibility for foster care funding, termination of parental rights of a putative father, custody and parenting time, spousal support, post-judgment debt, and support issues, and attorney fees and sanctions.
Gruetzner begins the summaries with a case regarding foster care funding eligibility against the Department of Health and Human Services stemmed from Arenac Circuit Court. The case went on to the Court of Appeals with the judge ruling in favor of the plaintiff as federal statute and its corresponding implements only require a court to make the requisite eligibility finding when a child is removed from the home into foster care, as opposed to being removed from the home and placed in juvenile detention or a psychiatric facility.
In November 2018, the Court of Appeals ruled on a case from Oakland Circuit Court involving a minor child and a dispute about the child’s legal guardianship between the maternal grandmother and the child’s putative father. The appellate court concluded that a putative father does not qualify as a parent for purposes of a trial court’s exercise of jurisdiction in child protective proceedings.
A separate Court of Appeals case in November 2018 stemmed from St. Clair Circuit Court regarding custody and parenting time. In this post-judgment matter, a father appealed the court’s order granting the mother sole legal custody of their minor children. The father argued that the trial court’s rulings were against the great weight of the evidence, in particular concerning the weight assigned by the trial court to expert testimony and testimony of counselors who treated the parties and children. The appellate court went back to the trial court and determined that the court may interview children, and as such, the court has discretion as to whether to conduct the interviews where the child’s preference was detailed.
Similarly, in a case from Wayne Circuit Court, the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court should have considered all of the spousal support factors that were relevant to the facts of a spousal support case, but that reversal was not warranted because the trial court’s ultimate decision to deny plaintiff spousal support was fair and equitable based on the appellate court’s review of the record, and as such, the wife could not establish plain error affecting her substantial rights.
Parties involved in a debt and support issue case in Lenawee Circuit Court were in “severe financial straits” when they filed for divorce in 2012. There was a discussion of bankruptcy as imminent for both parties. Following the divorce, one party filed for bankruptcy, but the other did not. The Court of Appeals acknowledged that when one party assumes all or part of the other party’s share of the debt, it makes sense to treat the division of marital debt like a support obligation because a creditor could pursue full payment on any debt from the other spouse, leaving that spouse with fewer means of support.
Gruetzner concludes the case summaries with one stemming from Oakland Circuit Court regarding consolidated appeals from the defendant husband’s “voluminous, and often frivolous, post-divorce judgment motions.” In this case, the parties filed for divorce providing the exact amount of spousal support the husband was to pay to the wife, and that the spousal support was non-modifiable. However, the corresponding uniform spousal support order did not state that the spousal support was non-modifiable. The Court of Appeals’ opinion states: “presumably, the [trial] court found it unnecessary to give a specific example of [husband’s] meritless motions given that there were over 650 entries in its docket.” The appellate court upheld the injunction issued by the trial court, finding that the trial court’s issuing of an injunction as an attempt to “curb” the husband’s frivolous filings was not an abuse of discretion, regardless of the trial court’s failure to identify specific evidence of factual findings to support the injunction under the circumstances of this case.
Read Gruetzner’s full case summaries, here.