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Badly split court holds that divorce judgment conclusively established no fault domicile--even if parties no longer honor it in deciding where children reside

In two related cases, the MIchigan Supreme Court decided on a 4-3 basis that Personal Injury Protection benefits payable by no fault insurers would be conclusively controlled by any language in divorce judgments describing legal custody.  The cases involved two different divorce situations:  in one, a lower court decision held that a child was domiciled equally with both parents under a joint custody ruling--because she actually lived with each parent equally.  In the other case, the lower court held that although custody had been awarded to the father who moved to Tenessee, the 16 year-old accident victim was actually living with mom when the accident occurred.  Since she was enrolled in school with no plans to return to the father's home, the judge concluded she was now domiciled with mom.

The Court of Appeals upheld both lower court decisions, but the Michigan Supreme Court over-ruled both. It held that a child could be domiciled in only one home, regardless of circumstances, and that any custody ruling by the Family Court was dispostive on the issue of the child's domicile--regardless of the subsequent circumstances. 

The dissenting Justices thought that the "one size fits all" application of what may be an old and no-longer-honored custody decision to determine domicile, regardless of the facts, was not a reasonable holding.  In the long run, the decision will save insurers money on some PIP and Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Claims while penalizing any family that mistakenly believes that current circumstances determine the insurer responsible for a domiciled child.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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