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Volume XXIV, No. 6, May 15, 2012     

From the Law Offices of Garan Lucow Miller, P.C.

From the Co-Editors

James L. Borin & Simeon R. Orlowski

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Are Two Homes Better than One? Children, Divorce and Domicile

 

CONTRIBUTOR – JUDITH A. MOSKUS

 

 

All of us have wrestled with those claims where it appeared that the claimant, a child of divorced parents, should have the right to claim benefits from both parents’ policies. In Grange v Farm Bureau, a published opinion issued on April 24, 2012, the Court of Appeals has provided a helpful analysis of this very situation, an analysis recognizes the potential for a dual domicile or residence for purposes of determining priority of coverage under Section 3114 of the No-Fault Act.

In this case, LR (Mom) was in an accident while driving with her minor child, JL. The accident resulted in JL’s death. Mom’s vehicle insured by Farm Bureau. Also at the time of the accident, JL’s parents were divorced, and pursuant to the judgment of divorce, the parents shared joint legal custody, but LR had primary physical custody.

Although JL slept at her mother’s home during the week, the child’s father saw her almost every day. JL had a room and personal belongings at her father’s home and she usually stayed with him every other weekend. JL’s parents were flexible with their parenting agreement and there was no intent to change this parenting time arrangement. Dad also took JL on vacations in the summer. The small amount of mail JL received went to her mother’s home, and this was also the address that was usually listed as the child’s home address.

Mom’s insurer, Farm Bureau, paid first-party benefits but claimed that Dad’s insurer, Grange, should share pro-rata. Grange’s policy included a provision within the definition of “family member,” stating that “[i]f a court has adjudicated that one parent is the custodial parent, that adjudication shall be conclusive with respect to the minor child’s principal residence.” The trial court granted summary disposition in favor of Farm Bureau finding Grange in the same order of priority. On appeal, Grange argued this was in error because no Michigan law recognized dual domiciles for a minor child of divorced parents for purposes of the No-Fault Act

MCL 500.3114(1) provides that the personal protection insurance policy applies to the named insured, the insured’s spouse, “and a relative of either domiciled in the same household.” The Michigan Supreme Court has considered the phrase “domiciled in the same household” and determined that for purposes of the No–Fault Act, the terms “domicile” and “residence” are “legally synonymous.” Workman v. DAIIE, 404 Mich. 477 (1979).

To determine if someone is “domiciled in the same household” as an insured, the Workman decision articulated four factors to be considered: (1) The subjective or declared intent of the person of remaining, either permanently or for an indefinite or unlimited length of time, in the place he contends is his “domicile” or household”; (2) the formality or informality of the relationship between the person and the members of the household; (3) whether the place where the person lives is in the same house, within the same curtilage or upon the same premises; (4) the existence of another place of lodging by the person alleging “residence” or domicile” in the household.

Additional factors helpful when determining if a minor is domiciled with his/her parents were enumerated in Dairyland v Auto-Owners, 123 Mich.App 675 (1983):Other relevant indicia of domicile include such factors as whether the claimant continues to use his parents’ home as his mailing address; whether he maintains some possessions with his parents; whether he uses his parents’ address on his driver’s license or other documents; whether a room is maintained for the claimant at the parents’ home; and whether the claimant is dependent upon the parents for support.

The Court of Appeals in this decision pointed out that there is nothing in the statute or case law that limits a minor child of divorced parents to one domicile or defines domicile as a “principal residence.” The Court reiterated that the seminal case on the issue of domicile, Workman, also recognized that “domiciled in the same household,” does not have a fixed meaning and may vary with circumstances.

The undisputed circumstances here indicated that JL was domiciled, meaning had a residence, in the homes of each of her parents. First, there was no evidence of an intention to change the parenting arrangement; next the same formal relationship existed between JL and her two parents at both homes; as to both homes, JL had another place she stayed. Additional factors evaluated included, what little mail JL received came to her mother’s home; also that JL had possessions at both homes. Next, JL primarily used her mother’s address but had a room at both home; and finally, JL was dependent on both of her parents for support.

The issue of domicile was properly determined as a question of law by the trial court. Although the judgment of divorce awarded the mother primary physical custody, that order did not change the evidence showing that JL actually resided with both her parents, which is the relevant inquiry under the No-Fault Act.

Grange’s final argument related to its policy provision, claiming that the family court’s adjudication of custody was conclusive of a child’s principal residence. However, since Section 3114(1) does not impose a requirement that coverage extends only to a relative whose “principal residence” is with the insured, the contract was in conflict with the statute, contrary to public policy and, therefore, invalid. The appellate court reiterated that any policy provision that limits an insurer’s obligation where the No-Fault Act does not is invalid.

 

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GARAN LUCOW MILLER

COMPLIMENTARY SEMINARS

 

REGISTER NOW!!!

Indy City Seminar

JW Marriott, Indianapolis

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

To register contact: ecarty@garanlucow.com

 

INDY CITY SEMINAR – CONTINUING EDUCATION CREDIT

Garan Lucow Miller, P.C. is pleased to announce that the Indy City Seminar has been approved for 3 credit hours of continuing education credit from the IN Dept of Insurance.

Drawing to win 4 tickets to the Indy 500!

 

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UPCOMING TROY BREAKFAST SEMINAR

 

Due to a scheduling conflict, we have re-scheduled the Troy Breakfast Seminar to take place on August 30, 2012.

 

Troy Breakfast Seminar

Marriott, Troy, MI

Thursday, August 30, 2012

8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

To register contact: ecarty@garanlucow.com

 

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GARAN LUCOW MILLER

INDY CITY SEMINAR

Garan Lucow Miller, P.C. is pleased to present a half day seminar covering both Indiana and Michigan Law on May 23, 2012, at the JW Marriott, located at 10 S. West Street, in downtown Indianapolis (317) 860-5800. Comprehensive written materials will be distributed to all seminar attendees.

8:30 – 8:55 Continental Breakfast – Registration

8:55 – 9:00 Welcome and Introductions

David N. Campos

9:00 – 9:30 Michigan First-Party No-Fault (PIP) Update

Speaker: David N. Campos

9:30 – 9:55 Indiana First-Party Law Update

Speaker: Gregory M. Bokota

9:55 – 10:15 Intellectual Property

Speaker: Robert D. Goldstein

10:15 – 10:25 Break

10:25 – 10:45 Michigan Premises Liability Update

Speaker: L. Ladd Culbertson

10:45 – 11:10 Michigan Third-Party Automobile Negligence Update

Speaker: L. Ladd Culbertson

11:10 – 11:35 Indiana Third-Party Law Update

Speaker: Gregory M. Bokota

11:35 – 12:00 Case Evaluation and Facilitation

Speaker: Robert D. Goldstein

12:00 – 12:45 Accident Reconstruction and “The Little Black Box”

James Hrycay – Hrycay Consulting Engineers

12:45 – 1:00 Questions and Answer Session

COURSE APPROVED FOR 3 CREDIT HOURS OF CONTINUING EDUCATION BY THE INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE!

If you are able to attend this complimentary event, please register via e-mail to Eileen Carty at: ecarty@garanlucow.com – We hope to see you there! -