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Recent Case Developments in Family Law

MPLP Summer 2006 Family Law Section Newsletter Article

Issue 31, Summer 2006

 

Recent Case Developments in Family Law

by Julian Williams, MPLP Law Clerk

The Michigan Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have issued several decisions affecting family law, including several published decisions. In particular, the courts addressed life insurance beneficiary rights under ERISA, restrictions on parenting time, UCCJEA, de novo review of a referee hearing and felony non-support.

ERISA AND DIVORCE WAIVER OF LIFE INSURANCE BENEFITS

Sweebe v. Sweebe

Michigan Supreme Court, docket no. 126913 (4/26/06)

The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeals that required the plaintiff to pay an amount equal to the insurance proceeds of the decedent's estate because the plaintiff was found to have waived her right to the proceeds under the waiver provision contained in the divorce judgment between plaintiff and decedent.

The plaintiff argued that the preemption provision of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) precludes a named beneficiary from waiving proceeds from a life insurance policy. In 1963, the decedent had designated the plaintiff as the beneficiary of his employer-provided life insurance policy and he never changed this designation after his divorce from the plaintiff. When the decedent died in 2001, the insurance plan administrator paid the proceeds to the plaintiff because she was listed as the named beneficiary. Defendant (decedent's surviving spouse) as personal representative of decedent's estate, filed a motion to enforce the judgment waiver.

The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeals, which ruled for the decedent's surviving spouse who filed a motion to enforce the waiver in the judgment of divorce. The Court holds that Michigan law cannot effect ERISA's determination of a proper beneficiary. However, since the plan administrator properly distributed the funds to the plaintiff the Court states that the issue in the case is not ERISA presumption but whether the plaintiff after waiving her interest in the proceeds, may lawfully retain them. The Court rejects the plaintiff's argument and holds that the plaintiff properly signed a provision in the judgment of divorce that extinguished any interest she had in the insurance policy of the decedent.

PARENTING TIME RESTRICTIONS ON COHABITATION

Muller v. Muller

Michigan Supreme Court, docket no. 130041 (3/8/06)

The Michigan Supreme Court denied the application for leave to appeal the Court of Appeals October 27, 2005 unpublished decision in this case. The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeals finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by ordering that "neither party shall have an unrelated member of the opposite sex overnight while having parenting time with the minor children." (See Muller v. Muller, Court of Appeals docket no 259271, 10/27/06).

 

The defendant challenged the order because he and his girlfriend wished to cohabitate and not marry. The court upheld the ruling of the trial court because during the custody hearing, the plaintiff expressed an opinion to the court, that she did not believe the children should be exposed to the cohabitation of unmarried couples. At the hearing, the defendant did not express an opinion either way. The court held that since only one party expressed an opinion on the issue of unmarried cohabitation, the trial court was correct in issuing an order honoring that opinion. The Supreme Court was not persuaded that this was an abuse of discretion or legal error. Justice Kelly would remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

UCCJEA JURISDICTION

Young v. Punturo

Michigan Court of Appeals, docket no. 223586 (4/11/06)

On reconsideration, the Court of Appeals held that because the Alabama Supreme Court had ruled Alabama was not the appropriate forum to decide the parenting time dispute between the parties, the Michigan trial court did not err in exercising jurisdiction. The plaintiff argued that the trial court erred when it determined that Michigan has jurisdiction over the parties' parenting time dispute. The Court disagreed holding that since the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that Alabama is not the appropriate forum, jurisdiction over the child is properly exercised in Michigan.

The plaintiff also argued that since neither the defendant nor the court filed a motion to modify the parenting time of the parties, the trial court erred in entering an order for modification. However, since one of the children has reached the age of majority, the Court of Appeals remanded the issue to the trial court to determine now what is in the best interests of the

DE NOVO REVIEW OF REFEREE DECISION

Mapes v. Eaton

Michigan Court of Appeals, docket no. 266144 (3/21/06) UNPUBLISHED

Defendant appeals from the trial court's order adopting the referee's findings and conclusion that it was in the best interest of the child to grant the plaintiff sole physical and legal custody. Defendant argued that she was not given an appropriate de novo hearing following her objection to the referee's proposed order. The Court of Appeals vacated the court's order and remanded the case.

After the referee issued its recommendation and opinion, defendant made a timely objection stating that the referee's findings were against the weight of the evidence. At the hearing on the defendant's objections, the trial court asked her to provide it with a transcript of the referee hearing, in which the testimony of the maternal grandparents was not available for transcription due to a malfunction in the recording system. After reviewing the available evidence and the referee's summary of the maternal grandparent's testimony, the trial court adopted the referee's findings without affording either party the opportunity to present additional evidence or testimony.

The Court of Appeals held that the defendant was entitled to a de novo hearing pursuant to MCR 3.215(F)(2) before the trial court adopted the referee's findings. MCR 3.215(F)(2) requires that the trial court allow the parties to present live testimony at the judicial hearing. The Court states that "a trial court may not simply refuse to hear testimony and instead resolve a party's objections to a referee's recommendation solely on the record of the referee hearing. Rather a trial court must afford the parties the opportunity to present evidence at a judicial hearing." The Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the trial court holding that they must give the defendant the opportunity to present the testimony of her parents.

FELONY NON-PAYMENT OF CHILD SUPPORT

People v. Adams

Michigan Court of Appeals, docket no. 258750 (3/21/06) UNPUBLISHED

The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant's conviction of failing to pay court-ordered child support. The defendant asserts that his conviction was improper because before November 3, 1999, leaving the state was a required element of the offense under MCL 750.165.

The Court stated that the defendant was correct that leaving the state was an element of the offense before November 3, 1999, but it was no longer an element after that date. Testimony established that the defendant failed to pay any child support from 1997 through 2003, including after November 3, 1999. The court held that his assertion that his conviction was improper lacked merit.

PPO VIOLATION

Hockeborne v. Golembiewski

Michigan Court of Appeals, docket no. 258915 (6/13/06) UNPUBLISHED

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision finding that respondent violated the PPO through her son's actions and affirmed the sentence of a suspended fine, costs and attorney fees.

Petitioner obtained a PPO against her neighbor under MCL 600.2950a. Among other things, the PPO prohibited respondent from "placing an object on or delivering an object to property owned, leased, or occupied by" petitioner. There was evidence that respondent knowingly allowed her son to fire illegal fireworks, which landed on petitioner's property and that respondent knew that her children were throwing basketballs into petitioner's yard.

The Court of Appeals did not find error in the trial court's finding that respondent violated the PPO through her son's actions, based on settled law that a party subject to a restraining order may be liable for contempt if the actions of an agent violate the order. The court cited Acorn Bldg Components, Inc v Local Union 2194, 164 Mich App 358, 367-368 (1987). The evidence at trial was sufficient to enable the trial court to find respondent acted in violation of the PPO.

 


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