Employment doesn't define a parental role

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

In the to-be-published case of Bofysil v Bofysil, the Michigan Court of Appeals provides a great reminder that we should not assume a diminished relationship between working parents and their children. It also sets forth in great detail almost any legal definition and case law an attorney could need relative to established custodial environment and burdens of proof.

The case hails from my old stomping grounds of Jackson County, and involved a relatively short-term marriage between Bridget and Sarah Bofysil. They had one child, born in 2016. Like most marriages, each parent had different duties, with Sarah being a stay-at-home mom, and Bridget working full time. The lower court spent considerable time detailing the tumultuous relationship between the parties, which included substantial arguing, calling their text messages “as vile as any communications the Court has seen between two parents.”

The lower court awarded sole legal and physical custody to Sarah, noting that while the court preferred joint legal, it appeared impossible for the parties to effectively make decisions together. It focused on Bridget’s “harsh and abusive communications…[which] demonstrated that she is incapable of co-parenting.” The Best Interest Factors were considered by the trial court, finding almost exclusively in favor of Sarah. Her role as the stay-at-home parent was greatly highlighted, downplaying the parental role performed by Bridget.

The Court of Appeals called out specific testimony which showed that while working full time, Bridget carried her own weight as a parent, even mentioning Sarah’s corroborating testimony.  While the lower court found that the established custodial environment existed solely with Sarah, the Court of Appeals’ examination determined that the evidence did not support this, and that Bridget’s full time employment resulted in her being treated by the lower court “as less than a full parent.”

The appellate court called out inconsistencies in the findings – Bridget had begun a new relationship since the parties separated, and this was used as a strike against her – however, Sarah was married when she and Bridget began their relationship, which did not appear to be taken negatively. Similarly, no credit was given to Bridget for providing income and health insurance for the minor child, but Sarah was found able to meet the child’s financial needs with child support.

Relative to legal custody, there were indications that the parents had agreed on major decisions regarding the child in the past, and the Court of Appeals noted that the use of computer programs, or the more simplistic notebook exchange, can temper parties’ communications and reduce hostility while co-parenting. The case was remanded for reconsideration on legal custody, requiring the lower court to consider “alternative communication methods.”

I’d recommend family law attorneys bookmark this case, if only for the fantastic case law contained within it. Additionally, it reminds us that employment both inside and outside of the home does not define your worth as a parent. 

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The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court. Reach her at matyjasz@hotmail.com. 


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