On September 24, 2009, an eight-year-old girl was fatally injured in an auto accident while riding in her mother’s car. The child’s parents were divorced at the time; the girl lived with her mother, who had primary physical custody, during the week. She also had her own room and belongings at her father’s house, where she generally stayed every other weekend, and went on summer vacations with him. The mother had auto insurance from Farm Bureau General Insurance Company of Michigan; the father had an auto insurance policy with Grange Insurance Company of Michigan. Both parents’ policies included personal protection insurance.
Farm Bureau paid first-party benefits for the girl’s death, but asked Grange to reimburse Farm Bureau for half that amount, contending that Grange was equal in priority with Farm Bureau. Grange refused, stating that the child was not insured under its policy with the father.
Michigan’s no-fault act, MCL 500.3130 et seq., provides that a personal protection insurance policy applies to the named insured, the insured’s spouse, “and a relative of either domiciled in the same household . . . .” MCL 500.3114(1).
Grange’s policy, in defining a “family member” who would be covered, stated, “If 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.” Grange argued that, since the mother was the custodial parent, the child was “domiciled” with her, not the father, so the child would not be covered under the Grange policy.
But the trial court disagreed, ruling that the child was domiciled with both parents; hence, Grange was liable for 50 percent of the benefits Farm Bureau had paid for the child’s death, the judge held. Grange appealed, but in a published per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed.
“[Grange] argues that the trial court erred because no Michigan law recognizes dual domiciles for a minor child of divorced parents for purposes of the no-fault act and the trial court incorrectly applied the facts to the law,” the Court of Appeals said. “We disagree.”
The appellate panel looked to the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Workman v Detroit Auto Inter-Ins Exch, 404 Mich 477 (1979). In Workman, the Supreme Court held that, for purposes of the no-fault act, the terms “domicile” and “residence” are “legally synonymous.” The Workman court said that, to determine if someone is “domiciled in the same household” as the insured person, a court should consider four factors: (1) the subjective or declared intent of the person of remaining, either permanently or for an indefinite or unlimited time, in the place he contends is his “domicile” or “household”; (2) the formality or informality of the relationship between that person and the members of the household; (3) whether the person lives in the same house, within the same curtilage or upon the same premises as the insured; and (4) whether the person who claims “residence” or “domicile” in the household has another place of lodging. Also, in Dairyland Ins Co v Auto-Owners Insurance Company, 123 Mich App 675 (1983), the Court of Appeals offered additional criteria: “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.”
As to the dispute between Grange and Farm Bureau, “There is nothing in MCL 500.3114(1) or Workman or Dairyland that limits a minor child of divorced parents to one domicile or defines domicile as a “principal residence,” the Court of Appeals stated.
The “undisputed circumstances” show that the girl “was domiciled, meaning had a residence, in the homes of each of her parents,” the Court of Appeals declared. There was no evidence that the child or her parents intended to change the parenting arrangement, the panel said. She had the same formal relationship to both parents and stayed at both their homes. Although the child primarily used her mother’s address and the child’s mail generally was sent there, she had a room and belongings at both her parents’ homes and was dependent on both of them for support.
“[A]s such, the issue of domicile was properly determined as a question of law by the trial court,” the Court of Appeals stated. “Although the judgment of divorce awarded [the mother] primary physical custody, that order does not change the fact that the evidence showed that [the child] actually resided with both her parents, which is the relevant inquiry under the no-fault act.”
Grange argued that, under its policy provision, it was not liable because the mother had primary physical custody of the child according to a court order; that determination of a child’s “principal residence” should establish that the child was not “domiciled” with her father for no-fault coverage purposes.
But the Court of Appeals rejected that argument: “MCL 500.3114(1) does not impose a requirement that coverage extends only to a relative whose ‘principal residence’ is with the insured. … In this case, because plaintiff’s policy would limit plaintiff’s obligation where the no-fault act does not, that provision is invalid.”
Grange appealed, and in an order dated September 19, 2012, the Supreme Court granted leave to appeal. The Court directed the parties to “include among the issues to be briefed: (1) whether a person, and in particular the minor child of divorced parents, can have two domiciles for the purpose of determining coverage under MCL 500.3114(1) of the Michigan no-fault act; (2) whether, in answering the first issue, a court order determining the minor’s custody has any effect; and (3) whether an insurance policy provision giving preclusive effect to a court-ordered custody arrangement is enforceable.”