Kronzek Firm Attorneys

Termination Of Parental Rights in Michigan: Voluntary vs. Involuntary

Close up picture of the eyes of a crying child

Termination of parental rights completely severs the bond between a parent and their child

Termination of parental rights means the complete and total severance of the parent-child relationship. It is absolute and permanent. A parent loses not just the right to care for and raise their child, but the right to maintain a relationship or have any contact with their child, without prior permission. Essentially, in the eyes of the law, they are no longer your child and you are no longer their parent.

In most cases, the allegations that would lead the court to seek a termination of parental rights are very serious and may result in criminal charges against the parent. These criminal charges may include, but are not limited to, Child Abuse in the 1st, 2nd 3rd, or 4th Degree, Child Abandonment and Child Sexual Abuse. A parent may be criminally prosecuted for these charges, and may face a potential jail or prison sentence.

There are two ways that a parent’s right’s can be terminated – voluntary and involuntary termination:

Voluntary termination:

This is where either one or both of a child’s parents choose to give up their parental rights. An example of this would be a mother who wishes to give her baby up for adoption because she is unwilling or unable to care for the child.

Involuntary termination:

This can occur without the consent of either parent and is usually sought when authorities believe that the parent is unfit or unable to care for their child.  If authorities believe that a child has been severely abused or neglected, or is in danger of severe abuse or neglect, the Family Court may be asked to terminate the parent’s rights. This would be an involuntary termination. Before this can happen, however, the court must conduct a trial to determine if the child is actually in danger. Usually, after a termination petition has been filed against a parent, their parenting time is automatically suspended until the court makes a decision. During the trial, the court will only consider “competent evidence”, which means that the Michigan Rules of Evidence will apply. These rules state that hearsay evidence is not admitted and it’s up to the prosecutor to prove neglect or abuse by “clear and convincing” evidence.  

A termination trial actually has two steps.  In the first step, the court decides whether there are grounds for termination.  In the second step, the court determines whether it is in the best interest of the child to terminate.  For this second step, courts generally approach the question in the same manner that would be used when deciding the best interest of the child in a custody case  It is important to note that for this “best interests” analysis, the Michigan rules of evidence do not apply, and any relevant evidence can be admitted for purposes of making a decision on this issue.  Under Michigan Law, there is no provision for a jury trial in either of these steps, so your judge will decide the issues.  Obviously, it is very important that parents be well represented for a termination trial.

If after a trial, the court believes by “clear and convincing evidence” that the parent(s) is unfit or unable to care for the child and it is in the best interests of the child to sever the parent-child relationship, the court will typically order the termination of parental rights.  The child will be placed in the temporary or permanent custody of the court. This means that the state assumes legal custody and responsibility for the child until a new guardian can be found. At this point a relative or foster parent could petition the court for guardianship rights. It also means that a child becomes potentially available for adoption by a relative or foster parent. Usually, when looking for a guardian for a child, the court will look to relatives of that child, or people that the child may be emotionally attached to, like a foster parent with whom they have been living.

Few State infringements on personal liberty are greater than the devastation of a termination of parental rights. A court ordered termination, just like any other final court order relating to a child’s custody or placement, can be appealed. However,  there are strict time requirements that apply for the filing of such appeals. If you fail to file an appeal within the time limits, you will lose your opportunity to appeal the decision. If your parental rights are terminated, don’t wait. Seek immediate legal assistance from a highly skilled and qualified attorney who has extensive experience dealing with termination of parental rights cases.

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