Friday, March 29, 2013
Michigan Court of Appeals Overturns Wayne County Judge’s Decision to Terminate Parental Rights
Regarding In the Matter of Clarmont, Minors; a respondent appealed as of right termination of her parental rights under MCL 712A.19b(3)(c)(i), (g), and (j). The Court of Appeals opinion is dated February 19, 2013. The lower court is the Wayne County Juvenile Division.
First, the respondent had an expected prison release date within a span of only five months. In establishing grounds for termination, the petitioner wholly relied upon the respondent’s criminal history and substance abuse (which occurred before the commencement of the child protection hearings); the fact that she was imprisoned; and also the difficulties she would face after her release date.
However, In re Mason held that imprisonment with a possible release date in less than two years plus the respondent having a criminal history are not alone sufficient grounds for termination under MCL 712A.19b(3)(c)(i), (g), and (j) except under specific circumstances not implicated in this case. In Mason, the Court found significant factors like the respondent maintaining contact with his children through the exchange of cards through the mail; the respondent also engaged in prison services; and he lined up housing and employment for after his release from imprisonment.
In the instant case, the respondent was required to have a relative sponsor in the state to acquire an interstate compact and transfer of her probation to Michigan. Due to this, the respondent had not yet arranged housing that would enable her to care for her children. Furthermore, an unknown factor was whether respondent would be able to find post-release employment and housing.
Yet, similar to Mason, the respondent completed all available prison services including parenting classes. Moreover, the respondent sent monthly letters to her children. A corrections officer even testified that the respondent did not exhibit any serious behavioral issues in prison—and that she earned all available good time. Notably, the respondent had a nonviolent criminal history that was not directly related to her parenting ability as well. Only limited evidence was introduced by the petitioner pertaining to the respondent’s parenting ability prior to incarceration. Moreover, the caseworker admitted to not evaluating the respondent’s current parenting skills either.
The Court of Appeals found the termination premature under Mason. The trial court clearly erred in finding statutory grounds for termination. Therefore, the case was reversed and remanded.
Also, the Court stated the children should be temporary wards of the court while reunification or termination efforts are ongoing with more information required concerning the respondent’s ability to provide proper care to her children in a reasonable time after her release from prison. Additionally, the Court noted that separation related to the imprisonment weakened the child/parent bond, and that the children would benefit from permanence. Therefore, the lower court did not clearly err in its best-interest determination.
With nearly one hundred years of combined experience, the attorneys of Kronzek and Cronkright, PLLC, aggressively protect the parental rights of clients all across the lower peninsula of Michigan, including Lansing, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Port Huron, Flint, Detroit, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, and more.