In Porter v. Hill, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that grandparents did not have standing to seek grandparenting-time when their deceased son’s parental rights terminated because of abuse. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court and held that the Michigan Child Custody Act, MCL 722.27b(1), which provides that grandparents may seek grandparenting time if the “[t]he child’s parent who is a child of the grandparents is deceased,” does not allow parents of a person who is no longer a legal parent to seek grandparenting time. The court reasoned that someone who is a biological parent but not a legal parent is not a “natural parent” under the statute. The court also urged the legislature to clarify a provision of the Child Custody Statute that allows grandparents to seek parenting time in cases in which parental rights have been terminated for a stepparent adoption, rather than cases where parental rights were terminated because of abuse or neglect.
In Kaftan v. Kaftan, the Court of Appeals considered the finality of a divorce settlement. At the time the parties agreed to the judgment of divorce and the settlement, certain real-estate investments owned by the couple were valued at $14,517,000. The settlement provided that the husband would retain all the real estate and would make payments to his wife over a long period of time, totaling $7,704,000. The husband stopped making the payments, arguing that the settlement should be invalidated due to mutual mistake of fact. He argued that there was mutual mistake regarding the value of the real estate. Because of fraud committed by his business partner, the real-estate investments were not worth $14,517,000 as the parties believed at the time of the divorce. The Court of Appeals rejected the husband’s argument. It held that there was no mutual mistake. Rather, this case was more akin to a marital asset losing its value after the divorce, and there could be no relief in such a situation. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary disposition to the wife, as well as the trial court’s refusal to grant sanctions to the wife.
In In the matter of AJR, the Court of Appeals considered the scope of the stepparent-adoption statute. The statute states that it applies to the spouse of “the parent having legal custody of the child.” MCL 710.51(6). The Court held that this language requires the parent, whose spouse seeks to adopt, to have sole legal custody, emphasizing the legislature’s use of the word “the.” In this case, the mother whose spouse sought adoption did not have sole legal custody. Accordingly, the trial court erred in terminating the father’s rights under the stepparent-adoption statute.
In In re Estate of Devon Pearl Burnett, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s entry of a divorce, holding that where a marriage was validly entered into in accordance with Michigan law, one spouse’s post-marriage sex-change operation did not prevent the court from having jurisdiction to grant a divorce or dissolve the marriage. Read more »
In In re Sanders Minors the Michigan Supreme Court will have the opportunity to reconsider the constitutionality of the “one-parent doctrine”. Under this doctrine, a court may exercise jurisdiction over both parents, in a parental termination proceeding, based solely on the bad acts of one of the two parents. On Friday, the Court granted leave to appeal the January 18, 2013 Court of Appeals’ order denying leave to appeal in that court, and instructed the parties to address whether the doctrine violates the due process and/or equal protection rights of the unadjudicated parent.
The motion of the Children’s Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan to file a brief amicus curiae was granted. The Court invited other interested amici to seek leave to file a brief.
In In re C. I. Morris, the Court of Appeals held that where there is no record evidence that a child is eligible for membership in any Indian tribe, and where the caseworker and trial court have assured that all available genealogical information has been provided to potential tribes, the burden shifts to the respondent to show that the child is an “Indian child” for purposes of the Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”). Because the proper notices were sent to potential tribes in this matter, and because the respondent-father failed to provide any evidence that ICWA applied, the order terminating parental rights was affirmed. Read more »
In In the Matter of Hernandez/Vera, the Court of Appeals considered whether to affirm the trial court’s termination of a mother’s parental rights. At the termination hearing, the mother consented to the termination of her rights. She was represented by counsel, and the court asked numerous questions to ensure that her consent was knowing and voluntary. On appeal, the mother first argued that her consent was not knowing and voluntary. The Court of Appeals disagreed. Nothing in the record supported her contention that she did not understand and voluntarily release her rights. Second, the mother argued that she was not competent to release her rights. As a question of first impression, the Court of Appeals held that the same standard for competency used in criminal proceedings also applied to the relinquishment of parental rights. Thus, the mother is presumed competent, and the trial court had no obligation to order a competency hearing unless the facts raised a bona fide doubt regarding her competency. Here, there was no such doubt. The mother’s psychologist specifically testified that although she was depressed and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, she did not suffer from psychosis. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed.
The defendant in Usitalo v. Landon is the birth mother of a minor child, who was born in 2003. The defendant and plaintiff jointly adopted the child in 2005. When the parties separated in 2007, they continued to jointly parent the child. But the relationship between the parties deteriorated, and in 2009, the parties stopped cooperating regarding the child’s care and custody. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a complaint seeking sole custody. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the probate court that granted the adoption lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, because Michigan law does not permit same-sex adoptions, so the adoption was void ab initio. Thus, the defendant claimed the collateral attack on the adoption was permissible. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, explaining that subject-matter jurisdiction concerns the right of a court to exercise judicial power over a certain class of cases; it does not concern particular cases or the correctness of a decision within that broad class of cases. Because the probate court had subject-matter jurisdiction over the adoption in 2005, the defendant could not collaterally attack the adoption. Therefore, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff lacked standing to seek custody. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s custody and parenting time order. The court also emphasized that it was not addressing the issue of whether the Michigan adoption code permits same-sex adoptions.
Judge Shapiro concurred in the per curium opinion, but wrote separately to note the internal contradiction in the defendant’s argument. The joint adoption order that granted the plaintiff’s parental rights also granted the same rights to the defendant. If she were correct that the adoption order were void ab initio, then her rights would be eliminated as well.