1. A parent who doesn’t pay child support can lose his rights to custody or parenting time.

Parents who don’t pay child support can be held in contempt of the child support order, and fined or jailed. But they don’t lose custody or parenting time rights. Nor is the parent who is owed child support justified in denying parenting time.

2. Child support can be avoided by “giving up rights” to a child.

You can’t unilaterally “give up” your parental rights. In Michigan parents’ rights are terminated when (1) there’s an adoption, where there is a person ready, willing and eager to become the new parent, and (2) Child Protective Services of DHS brings a child protection proceeding is brought and a parent is found guilty of abusing or neglecting a child (an adoption often ensues). Also, adoptions end only future child support; any past support owed is still due and collectible.

3. It can be waived.

Michigan mandates using the Michigan Child Support Formula in all cases. Deviations from the formula are allowed only if it creates an “unjust or inappropriate result.”   Section 1.04(E) of the 2013 Michigan Child Support Formula Manual (2013 MCSF) describes 21 reasons—mostly unusual financial situations—that might support a deviation. If a judge allows a deviation she must formally explain the unfairness, the amount of the deviation and the reasons justifying it. In my experience, judges rarely or never allow deviations.

4. Child support stops when a child reaches age of majority (18).

Child support continues until the child reaches 18 or up to 19½ while full-time enrolled in high school expecting to graduate. Support often ends at the end of the child’s senior year in high school, months after the child has reached 18.

5. It can change only every 3 years.

Child support can change anytime there’s a substantial change—especially an increase—in a parent’s income, or a change in cost of child care or medical insurance or other allowed expenses. (The “minimum threshold for modification,” according to Section 4.04 of the 2013 MCSF is a “10% change or “$50 per month, whichever is greater.”)

If there’s a strong argument for changing child support you don’t have to wait for three years after the last child support review; you can file a request for a review by the Friend of the Court, or a motion to modify child support. You should explain, and be ready to prove, the new circumstance and how it should affect child support.

A parent has a right to a review every 3 years even without an argument or reason for changing it. If you think a Friend of the Court review could turn up helpful information about income, etc., consider asking for a three-year review.

6. It’s zero when parents have 50-50 parenting time.

My clients are sometimes surprised when child support is charged even though they’re following, for instance, an alternating weekly parenting schedule. The amount of time each parent spends with the child is only a factor in the formula. Parents’ incomes are critical. Child support is supposed to equalize their incomes. The amount is “apportioned … based on each parent’s share of their combined net incomes” (Section 3.01(B) of the 2013 MCSF).

This seems especially fair when one parent has a six-figure income and the other has minimum wage. But child support can also be charged when parents’ incomes are closer, though the amount for a 50-50 schedule will always be a much lower than when one parent has primary physical custody and 70% of parenting time or more.



Before 2001, when divorced parents with children in their custody wanted to move to a new residence they were limited if the move was out-of-state. They usually had to get permission from their ex or if that failed from the court. There they would have to prove that the move would likely improve the “general quality of life” for them and the child. They’d also have to show that after the move there would be a “realistic opportunity” for their ex-spouse’s visitation with the children “in lieu of the weekly pattern.” This could be a difficult burden.

But in-state moves were not prohibited, and Michigan’s size and unusual two-peninsula shape resulted in the odd situation that a parent needed permission to move from, e.g., Menominee in the upper peninsula to Marinette Wisconsin, only blocks away, but none for the in-state move to Monroe, a 513 mile drive.

The legislature addressed this problem in 2001 by passing the “Hundred Mile Rule,” also known as Section 11 of the Child Custody Act. Since then custody orders, including divorce judgments, usually require a parent to get permission to move a child more than 100 miles farther from the co-parent, regardless of state lines. (Orders usually still include prohibitions against moving out-of-state).

But in 2008 the Court of Appeals revived some incongruous possibilities in its opinion in a case where the father had moved from Big Rapids to Byron, a driving distance of 152 miles, requiring 2.4 hours (according to Google maps). Though the mother argued he violated the 100-Mile Rule by moving without the court’s permission, the judges ruled they lacked authority to interpret the words “100 miles” in the law to mean anything other than direct “radial” miles, as the crow flies. Since Byron was only 98 “radial” miles away, he hadn’t violated the 100 mile rule and didn’t have to justify the move.

The difference between road miles and radial miles in the Big Rapids – Byron move was trivial compared to other possibilities, especially on opposite sides of Lakes Michigan and Huron. Here are some extreme examples of long moves that are less than 100 radial miles:

Travel distance

Time required

“Radial” miles

Frankfort – Menominee 339 miles 6:6 hours 75 miles
Manistee – Menominee 374 miles 6.8 hours 87 miles
Ludington – Menominee 318 miles 6.9 hours 98 miles
Northport – Escanaba 277 miles 5.5 hours 82 miles
Frankfort – Escanaba 286 miles 5.6 hours 87 miles
Alpena – Bad Axe 193 miles 3.7 hours 90 miles
Hubbard Lake – Drummond Isl. 192 miles 4.1 hours 84 miles


These radial mile distances are from Gpsvisualizer.com (applying a ruler to a map is inexact because of the distortion due to the earth’s curvature) and the driving times are from Google Maps.

Gpsvisualizer gives 100.6 miles as the distance from Traverse City to Menominee, so permission would be needed for that move. But Greilickville, next to Traverse City’s west side, is only 99.4 miles from Menominee, so that move of 321 highway miles taking 5.8 hours would be fine according to the Court of Appeals’ ruling.

At some point this oddity may become glaring to the legislature or the courts and be corrected by either an amendment to the law or a new court decision that takes Michigan’s unique geography into account. Until then, quirky, inconsistent results in custody cases are, I believe, inevitable.


The most common question I get in divorce situations is if it’s okay to move out of the marital home. I talk about three problems areas:
1. You may not get back in. If you move out and especially if you establish your own separate residence, a court may easily find that your spouse has exclusive right to occupy the marital home. Even before a court order, when push comes to shove a police officer may tell you that since you’ve established a separate residence you can’t come back into the home without your spouses permission. In short, I’ve seen spouses change locks and get away with it.
Your access to any of your belongings still in the marital home will be limited, of course, and you could be at the mercy of your spouse to not hide, destroy, lose, or sell them, etc.

2. Child Custody. If you leave a minor child behind, your spouse could gain an advantage in a custody battle. Court’s often at find that children are better off staying in the marital home for their emotional well-being. Plus, your spouse may be in a position to argue he/she is the child’s “primary caretaker,” a common question in custody disputes (relevant in the important factor (b) in the best interests factors in the Child Custody Act .

If you move out with the children, the court may still decide they’re better off in the marital home. (Another of the factors listed in the Child Custody Act is “(e) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.”)

3. Temporary or Permanent Alimony. If your spouse can’t afford the expenses of the marital home, like, for instance, a big mortgage payment, you may be ordered to pay part of the expenses, temporarily or longer. This could take the form of an alimony payment.

All or none of these problems may exist for you, but if you have any doubts about whether to move out, you should seek legal advice about your situation