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 (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.