St. Joseph Michigan Criminal Defense Blog

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Prenuptial Agreements

New Case Limits Enforceability of Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial Agreements
In a recent decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals declined to enforce portions of a prenuptial agreement limiting the discretion of the trial court to intervene in property distribution between the parties. If you or someone you know are considering entering into a prenuptial agreement or are trying to contest the validity of such an agreement, contact the Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC, a leading family law attorney in Berrien County.

In Michigan, it is increasingly common for couples with significant assets to enter into prenuptial agreements, also known as antenuptial agreements or premarital agreements. Such agreements can cover a broad array of topics, but often they are used to ensure that one party retains certain property during divorce proceedings. While Michigan courts generally enforce prenuptial agreements controlling property divisions, they are less willing to do so when the agreement is inherently unfair or when there has been an unforeseeable change in circumstances after the marriage that makes enforcement unjust. Courts have also routinely refused to enforce other kinds of prenuptial provisions, such as ones which seek to limit the court’s role in determining custody or child support for children born during the marriage because Michigan law requires the court to consider the best interests of those children in determining those issues.

Recently, courts have focused on the ability of prenuptial agreements to limit a court’s discretion to adjust imbalanced property settlements. Under Michigan law, if a presiding court finds that the division of marital property provides insufficient support for one of the parties, it can order the other party to give up a larger share from the property acquired during the marriage. In extremely imbalanced cases, the court can also require the more secure party to give up his or her separate property, including property acquired before the marriage.

In Allard, a recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision, the parties entered into a prenuptial agreement that explicitly precluded division of any separate property owned by the parties before the marriage, and imposed a mandatory 50/50 split of any property acquired after the marriage. The prenuptial agreement also went a step farther by including provisions that limited the trial court’s ability to correct imbalanced property divisions in the manner described above. As a whole, this prenuptial agreement greatly disadvantaged the Defendant in Allard, because it resulted in a much smaller property division than might otherwise have received and it limited the court’s ability to adjust this division in her favor. Nevertheless, the trial court enforced the agreement, noting that the agreement was not unconscionable and that there had not been an unforeseeable change in the circumstances of the parties since the agreement was signed.

However, the Michigan Court of Appeals later overruled this decision. Compared to the trial court, the Michigan Court of Appeals focused less on the limits of what the parties were allowed to agree to and more on the inherent powers of the presiding judge in divorce cases. The fatal flaw in the prenuptial agreement was its interference with judicial discretion; the parties are free to agree to terms that may prove disadvantageous, but they cannot prohibit the court from reviewing and possibly correcting the result to protect one of the parties.

In a statement after the decision, the attorney for the Plaintiff issued a warning to people who might be contemplating getting a prenuptial agreement. He compared writing a prenuptial agreement to planting a bomb that won’t explode until years or decades have passed, and stated it was vital to retain an attorney who understands the intricacies of such agreements, not an attorney who merely “dabbles” in writing them. If you or someone you know are considering entering into a prenuptial agreement or are trying to contest the validity of such an agreement, contact the Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC, a leading family law attorney in Berrien County today at 269.982.1100 or visit www.AttorneyPeterJohnson.com for further information.

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Family Law Attorney in Cass County

Michigan Supreme Court to Clarify Issues Regarding Motions to Change Schools

Family Law Attorney in Cass County
After years of ambiguity, the Michigan Supreme Court is poised to hear multiple cases that may offer clarity on several issues when parents are unable to agree on changes to a child’s school district. If you or someone you know is contemplating a move that would require changing a minor child’s school district, Contact the Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC, a leading family law attorney in Cass County.

In situations where two parties share legal custody of a minor child, a move by one party to a new location often means that he or she will have to file a motion to change the minor child’s school district. Sometimes, this places the trial court in a difficult position because the judge must determine whether the move will adversely affect what’s known as the “established custodial environment,” and must also evaluate whether the move will be in the child’s best interests. Both of these determinations are fact-intensive and losing parties frequently file appeals to contest the court’s ruling.

However, at present, there is no guarantee that the Michigan Court of Appeals will hear such an appeal. Under Michigan law, the Michigan Court of Appeals is a court of limited jurisdiction, meaning that it can only preside over certain cases in certain circumstances. The most common types of acceptable are called “appeals by right”. Appeals by right are usually rooted in either a law or a court rule that authorizes the party to appeal a certain kind of decision. However, in family law cases, there are very few accepted grounds for appeals by right, and accordingly, the Michigan Court of Appeals frequently dismisses appeals for lack of jurisdiction.

The lack of an appeal by right for motions to change school districts has recently been the focus of several court cases. In Ozimek, the parties, who were never married, shared legal and physical custody of their child. After a year under this arrangement, the Plaintiff sought to move to another town, and filed a motion to change her son’s school from one in Allen Park to one in Livonia. Even after mediation, the parties could not agree on the change to the new school, and the trial court, after holding evidentiary hearings, ultimately denied the motion, finding that the move would adversely affect the Defendant’s ability to exercise parenting time.

Before the Michigan Court of Appeals could review the denial of the motion, it was required to first determine whether it could even hear the appeal, and ultimately, it determined that it did not have jurisdiction. In justifying its decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals noted that Michigan court rules had been changed in 1994 in order to decrease the backlog of appeals. While the revised court rule still empowered the Michigan Court of Appeals to hear appeals regarding post-judgment orders affecting the custody of a minor child, the court interpreted this exception narrowly because of the restrictive language of the 1994 revisions. Although it acknowledged that school decisions are a significant component of legal custody (the rights of parents to be involved in important decisions in their child’s life), the word custody in the rule in question was traditionally interpreted only to apply to physical custody (how time with the child is divided between the parents).

However, later in its opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals also acknowledged that in another Michigan Court of Appeals case issued only four months earlier, it had arrived at the exact opposite conclusion when it found that legal custody was included within the rule. Given this ambiguity, the Michigan Court of Appeals also made the unusual move of explicitly urging the Michigan Supreme Court to “weigh in on the issue,” and asking supporters of an expanded rule to focus their efforts on the Michigan Supreme Court as well.

Recently, the Michigan Supreme Court has taken this advice to heart. In February, it agreed to preside over the appeal on Ozimek and in another substantially similar case, and it has requested that the parties make oral arguments on the topic of whether a motion to change schools can be considered a post-judgment order affecting the custody of a minor child. However the Michigan Supreme Court rules, there will likely be significant policy ramifications. For decades, the unwillingness of the Michigan Court of Appeals to hear appeals on this topic has frustrated parents because it limits the recourse they can seek from an adverse ruling. For its part, the Michigan Court of Appeals seems to prefer the status quo. In the Ozimek opinion, it stated that such a bottleneck is necessary in order for it to avoid being deluged by a large number of domestic cases spanning a diverse array of issues.

Family law in Michigan is a constantly evolving landscape. One of the most important decisions that you can make to ensure you prevail in a family law dispute is hiring a lawyer who is up to date on recent, critical developments in his area of practice. If you or someone you know is involved in a family law dispute, contact the Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC, a leading family law attorney in Cass County today at 269.982.1100 or visit www.AttorneyPeterJohnson.com for further information.

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