Meri Anne Stowe—Chair, Family Law Section
As the various committee reports below indicate, this has been a productive and innovative year for the Family Law Section. Besides the standing committees, ad hoc committees were appointed to consider various issues, including the long-standing Family Law Council tradition of holding its meetings on Saturdays, the Michigan Child Support Formula concept of shared economic responsibility, and court reorganization. The Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee is undertaking a project which will devise domestic relations mediation training under the guidelines established by the State Court Administrator's Office.
Family Law Section seminars have been outstanding, with excellent attendance. The council has taken positions on numerous legislative initiatives and has been successful in lobbying the state legislature to be mindful of the interests of Family Law Section practitioners. The Michigan Family Law Journal continues its reputation as an outstanding publication, under the auspices of Norman Robbins, Editor, and Scott Bassett, Associate Editor. A stellar group of judges, attorneys, referees, and Friend of the Court personnel assembled in Ann Arbor in April for the Third Annual Family Court Forum. At the request of the Michigan Supreme Court, the Family Law Section submitted an amicus brief in the matter of Malloy v. Malloy.
These are just a few of the many activities undertaken by Family Law Section council members who selflessly volunteer their time and talents to a myriad of issues and projects which concern family law practitioners in Michigan.
Adoption Committee Report
John F. Mills—Chair
The Adoption Committee consists of a small group of hard-working adoption professionals dedicated to the fulfillment of family goals and values through utilization of the adoption process. The committee met as needed this past year to review and respond to proposed legislation seeking to amend the Adoption Code. The chair testified before a State House committee in opposition to a package of legislation seeking to enhance the custodial rights of putative fathers under certain circumstances. The legislation is still pending in the Senate. The committee also proposed legislation seeking to expand the use of temporary placements to cover non-Michigan residents. That legislation is expected to be introduced this legislative session.
Alimony Guidelines Committee
Jack Keiser and David Sarnacki—Co-Chairs
The Alimony Guidelines Committee met on January 5, 2002, in Lansing. The committee reviewed the two existing Alimony Guidelines Programs and concluded that it should continue to recommend the Alimony Guidelines Program of Craig Ross. At the council meeting later the same morning, the committee was directed to revisit its position after receiving the 2002 updated guidelines from Craig Ross. Those guidelines have recently been received and the committee is in the process of carrying out the council's directive.
Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee
The Alternate Dispute Resolution Committee, on behalf of the Family Law Section, sponsored legislation for matrimonial arbitration which was passed into law. The committee actively worked to clarify issues presented by the new law, including a seminar for the Family Law Section, educating parties who seek to be arbitrators or who wish to use the arbitration process.
At this time, the ADR Committee has been assigned the task of obtaining approval from the Supreme Court Administrative office to provide forty hour mandatory training for mediation under Court Rule 3.216.
It is hoped that approval will be obtained from SCAO in the near future in order to admit the undertaking of said training.
The Amicus Committee had a productive and rewarding year. We are pleased to report that the Michigan Supreme Court, sua sponte, requested an amicus brief from the section in the case of Molloy v Molloy. The request appears to be a reflection of the benefit the Court has derived from our briefs in the past, and we are quite proud of the reputation these have earned. The section did submit the requested amicus brief in this matter, and the court ordered the result which we had recommended. We are continuing to receive inquiries about the briefs from section members, and our procedural rules have been well received by the Bar.
Judith A. O'Donnell—Chair
CLE has a very productive year with eight seminars held or planned in the 2001-2002 season. To date, four seminars were presented in Oakland County, and a mid-winter seminar in Mexico. The Oakland County seminars were attended by approximately 250 attorneys and the materials from the seminars were distributed to an additional fifty-plus attorneys.
The seminar on child abduction and immigration issues in domestic relations matters was unique. The seminar was well attended by both legal aid attorneys and judges. It has filled a real need in the community and made a valuable contribution towards equal "access to justice," by educating the attorneys who serve the neediest in our community regarding issues that are frequently encountered in the immigrant population.
In addition to the above, a seminar in Lansing will be held in June and the first Family Law Seminar in the Upper Peninsula is planned for August. The distance required to travel often prevents practicing attorneys in the UP from obtaining continuing legal education and this seminar will be a first for the Family Law Section.
The Family Law Section also will join with ICLE in presenting the first two-day "Family Law Institute," in October, 2002.
Court Rules Committee
The Court Rules Committee has been fortunate to have several of its members appointed to the Family Division Joint Rules Committee established by the Supreme Court. The Joint Rules Committee has been primarily focused on juvenile rules to date, but will take up revision of the MCR 3.200 sub-chapter in the fall. One of the issues of concern to practitioners is the effect of the new compulsory joinder of claims rule in MCR 2.203 on domestic relation actions as to domestic tort claims. Another is revision to rules regarding domestic relations referees, found in MCR 2.315. The committee has solicited input from the section as a whole on the family law listserv and is looking forward to exploring various improvements to court rule family law practice. Proposed revisions to MRE 703, which would require the bases of opinion testimony by experts to be in evidence, have a serious impact in child custody cases where experts commonly rely on information that would otherwise be barred as hearsay.
Family Court Forum Committee
Family Court Forum held its third successful annual meeting on April 19, with the focus of this year's issue on psychological evaluations in child custody cases. The committee is scheduled to meet and plan next year's event.
Guardian Ad Litem Committee
The Guardian Ad Litem Committee has not had very much activity this year. However, the GAL Handbook, which is still being offered for sale, has had many purchases this year.
2001-2002 Legislative Committee Report
I. Legislation for Council Review—The committee met annually and presented the following legislation for the council's review:
1. HB 4765—Admissibility of hearsay where offense is domestic violence.
2. SB 132—Requires certain "no contact" conditions on bonds of certain offenders before they are released.
3. HB 4780—Excludes child support and espousal support from the computation of household income for purposes of calculating the homestead property tax credit.
4. HB 4858—Requires a child to remain in the home of a relative if the child is residing with that relative when a petition is filed (under the Probate Code).
5. HB 4916—Creates a Guardianship Ombudsman.
6. HB 4918—Creates a Children's Trustee to properly distribute undisbursed child support.
7. SB 612—Amends voting ballots with regard to the election of family law judges.
8. Proposal by Rep. Richner to prevent the disclosure of certain business information to the public during a divorce proceeding.
9. HB 4918—Establishes a Children's Trustee to distribute undisbursed child support.
10. HB 5009—Imposes civil liability on individuals who are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect but who fail to do so.
11. HB 5129—Amends the stepparent adoption laws.
12. HB 5131—Amends the Adoption Code.
13. SB 657— Requires a joint physical custody order upon a minor child turning 12.
14. SB 682-684—Technical bills to correct references to Support and Parenting Time Enforcement Act.
15. HB 5132—Amends rights to grandparenting time.
16. HB 4855/SB 732—Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).
17. Family Preservation Package
HB 5164—Authorizes a shorter waiting period for a marriage license upon the completion of certain pre-marital instruction.
HB 5153/HB 5165—Provide for tax credits up to $50.00 for pre- and post-marital education/counseling.
HB 5166—Requires divorce effects counseling.
HB 5167—Requires parenting time plan in every divorce involving minor children.
HB 5168—Amends the no-fault divorce statutes
18. Domestic Violence Prevention Package
HB 5301/SB 753—Amends the warrantless arrest laws for violations of foreign PPOs.
HB 5302/SB 754—Amends the definition of a "domestic violence incident" to include a violation of a foreign PPO.
HB 5303/SB 755—Waives the motion fee to dismiss or to show cause for the violation of a foreign PPO.
HB 5304/SB 756—Requires a police agency to include procedures for enforcing a valid foreign PPO in the agency's written policies.
HB 5305/SB 757—Gives the Family Division the authority over a proceeding involving a minor who has allegedly violated a foreign PPO.
HB 5306/SB 758—Allows for a warrantless arrest for an alleged violation of a conditional release imposed by a court.
HB 5299/SB 751—Provides for the enforcement of domestic PPOs issued in Michigan within and outside of the state.
HB 5300/SB 752—Provides for the enforcement of non-domestic PPOs issued in Michigan within and outside of the state.
HB 5269/SB 725—Allows sealing of court records for the safety of domestic violence victims or potential victims.
HB 5270/SB 730—Revises procedures for search warrant affidavits.
HB 5271/SB 720 Revises standard report for domestic violence crime.
HB 5272/SB 723—Expands the definition of domestic relationship to include former or current dating relationship.
HB 5273/SB 728—Requires judge to record reason for issuing or refusing to issue a PPO for nonrelationship stalking case.
HB 5274/SB 731—Requires reports of domestic violence by law enforcement agencies.
HB 5275/SB 729—Implements full faith and credit provision of VOWA.
HB 5276/SB727—Revises prohibition against granting interim bond to person held for domestic assault and battery.
HB 5278/SB 726—Requires Dept. of State Police to serve a PPO on respondent before sending firearms restriction notice.
HB 5279/SB 735—Prohibits pre-trial bond and post-trial bail for persons convicted of aggravated stalking unless court finds the person poses no threat to others.
HB 5280/SB 719—Creates death review teams for domestic violence homicides.
HB 5281/SB 724—Allows prior offense of domestic violence in another state to enhance penalty.
HB 5283/SB 736—Modifies MRE 404 to allow prior acts of domestic violence to be admissible as evidence.
19. HB 5331—Excludes child support from household income for tax purposes of calculating the homestead exemption for a payor of child support.
20. HB 5345—Extends a payor's child support obligation beyond the age of 18 where payor was incarcerated.
21. HB 5346—Extends child support obligation to the age of 26 for payors of children with certain disabilities.
22. HB 5438—Requires consideration of parenting time under the Family Support Act on motion by non-custodial parent.
23. HB 5439—Apportions confinement expenses between parties based on their respective ability to pay.
24. Attorney General—Opinion as to non-custodial parent's access to minor's mental health records.
25. HB 5545—a bill to establish a Michigan Marriage and Fatherhood Commission.
26. HB 5575—a bill to amend the Child Custody Act to include de facto custodians.
27. HB 5577—a bill to exclude child support and spousal support from income for the purposes of calculating the heating fuel credit for Michigan tax purposes.
28. HB 6004-6031—Friend of the Court Reform Package
II. Testimony and Meetings
This has been an extremely busy year for our lobbyist, William Kandler. He has worked closely with the Family Law Council and the Legislation Committee, chaired by Lisa Sullivan, to advance the interests of family law practitioners in the state legislature. The Family Law Section's efforts have been rewarded on many occasions, with important modifications being made to several bills. On other occasions, William Kandler and members of the Family Law Section worked with legislative advisory groups and also testified before various legislative panels.
The Family Law PAC is used primarily for campaign contributions for those legislators who have been receptive to Family Law Section concerns and who have promoted section goals.
Michigan Family Law Journal Committee
The Michigan Family Law Journal continued this year in its tradition of excellence. Ten issues are published yearly, plus an annual special issue. In 2001/2002, the special issue concentrated on alternative dispute resolution. Approximately 3,000 copies of the Michigan Family Law Journal are sent each year to Family Law Section members, judges, state and university libraries, and other governmental entities.
This year the Michigan Family Law Journal was augmented by a series of articles written by Family Law Section members and council members, and included such topics as economic consequences of becoming a homemaker spouse, personal protection orders affecting custody and parenting time, the Shared Economic Responsibility Rormula, procedural tips from a Circuit Court Referee, and the safe delivery of newborns law.
Mid-Summer and Mid-Winter Seminar Committee Report
In January, 2002, the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan held a mid-winter seminar in Ixtapa, Mexico. The committee offered three days of cutting edge family law seminar issues with presentations of nine outstanding speakers.
The Family Law Section is also hosting a mid-summer seminar on July 18-19, 2002, in Montreal, Canada. This event for family law attorneys and judges will have two days of outstanding seminars offered by six well-known family law experts. This committee, on behalf of the Family Law Section, is providing continuing legal education for the benefit of its members.
Smile Committee Report
Richard S. Victor—Chair
The Family Law Section SMILE Committee met by way of e-mails and discussed various ideas which are in the process of being implemented in order to stay in touch with representatives of the SMILE programs being instituted in every county in the state of Michigan. The purpose of these contacts is to share ideas on how to update and better implement SMILE around the state. In addition, we have continued to sell the SMILE video entitled "Listen to the Children" which has been a very successful fund-raising program for the section over the past 11 years.
Information was also put together and disseminated to SMILE participants who have volunteered to put on live SMILE programs in certain counties. This information directly related to how family law attorneys who participate in the program can better address their individual presentations. Examples of some of this information were:
- Advise that both parties are going through very similar feelings and frustrations throughout the divorce and separation process;
- Individuals who go through divorce are involved in the death of a relationship which often prohibits them from acting logically and emotionally at the same time;
- Advise parents that their actions in failing to comply with court orders may be an attempt to hurt the other spouse, but, in fact, it serves to hurt the children;
- Help parents of divorce to recognize that their children are caught in the middle of these disputes and should never be asked to choose between parents or provide loyalties that create emotional conflicts of interest for them;
- Help parents realize that divorce often breeds the instinct to blame the other party because of disappointments, feelings of betrayal, and a general sense of loss. However, it is imperative that parents control their conduct in order to not put children in the middle of the dispute;
- End their presentation with the message that the "greatest gift they can give their children is permission to love their other parent."
The SMILE Committee is looking forward to its next meeting of the representatives of county SMILE programs in order to update the SMILE directory on all of the state programs. This meeting takes place every five years and will coincide with the State Bar of Michigan's Annual Meeting in 2003.
Michigan Bar Journal Committee
The Michigan Bar Journal will once again feature an issue dedicated to family law. Skilled practitioners will author articles on timely family and matrimonial law topics.