Terminating a parent’s rights isn’t a simple matter in any state and it’s a permanent, irrevocable court order in Michigan. The court will only grant such an order under two circumstances: to pave the way for a child’s adoption or because one or both parents present a significant danger to the child.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Voluntary termination of parental rights can take place under the terms of Michigan’s Adoption Code. A parent typically has 28 days under Michigan law to revoke her consensual relinquishment of rights and to regain custody of a newborn. If the father is known, both parents must surrender their rights, and if the child is 5 years old or older, the court must also make a determination that the adoption is in his best interests.
In the case of stepparent adoptions, a noncustodial parent can consent to termination of her parental rights to allow the adoption to go through or she can refuse to give her consent. If she refuses, the custodial parent and the adopting spouse can file a petition with the court to ask that her rights be terminated on certain grounds – a legally supportable reason why she should not be permitted to retain her parental rights, allowing the adoption to go through.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
Matters of involuntary termination of parental rights are covered by Michigan’s Juvenile Code, both in the case of a noncustodial parent refusing to give consent to allow a stepparent adoption and when remaining in the custody of the parent or parents presents a grave risk to the child. In either case, a petition must be submitted to the court that lists and explains the petitioner’s grounds, and written notice of the proceedings must be served upon the parent at least 14 days before the first scheduled hearing. This first court appearance is typically a pretrial hearing, and a trial date is set at this time. In Michigan, these cases are heard by a judge, not decided by a jury.
In situations of child endangerment, the petitioner might be the state prosecutor or the Department of Human Services. A parent who can prove that he’s indigent can ask for a court-appointed attorney. In some cases, the court might allow a period of time for the parent to attempt to repair whatever situation led to the abuse or neglect of the child, but both the parent and the child would typically remain under court supervision. If parental rights are terminated, it’s possible that criminal charges could also be filed against the parent who endangered the child, but this is a separate proceeding in a different court, and it’s not brought about by a civil court petition.
The Burden of Proof
The party who files a petition for termination of a parent’s rights has the burden to prove by a preponderance of clear and convincing evidence that the grounds cited in the petition do indeed exist. In cases of child endangerment, recognized grounds include desertion. The Michigan Code does not specifically define the term “desertion,” but it’s accepted to mean that the parent has left the child for a period of at least 91 days, or – in the case of giving up a baby for adoption – has not rescinded her consent within 28 days. Parents who have lost their rights due to an adoption proceeding have 21 days to appeal the termination.
Sexual abuse and failure to protect a child against sexual abuse also provide grounds for termination, as does failure to provide proper care. Previous termination of parental rights over the child’s sibling or siblings is also grounds, and it must be established that there is a risk of harm to the child if he’s returned to his parent.
In cases of stepparent adoptions, grounds are more limited. It must be established that the parent has not had contact with the child for at least two years and has not financially supported her even when able to do so. Both conditions must be present, and the court won’t terminate the noncustodial parent’s rights if they can’t be proved. Courts might rule that there has been no contact even if the parent has phoned or visited a time or two during those two years, and Michigan law states that incarceration is not an excuse – efforts for some contact with the child are still possible even when a parent is in jail.