In Michigan, parents can always use some good news from the Courts. There is a glimmer of hope for at least one parent in Michigan because of a Michigan Supreme Court Decision vacating a trial court decision to terminate parental rights. The case is In re R.J.K. Timon, Minor. In this one paragraph order, the court vacated the decision of the trial court rather than granting leave to appeal from an unfavorable ruling from the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Guardianship Options in Neglect/Abuse cases
Michigan families often find themselves in court on a petition brought by the Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Protective Services division investigator. It is a common occurrence for parents to look for a solution to a temporary problem that brought the matter to the attention of the court. There are many types of problems which endanger children but are temporary if they are dealt with properly. Conditions which are serious but temporary could include things like:
- An unsanitary or unsafe condition in the home
- A drug or alcohol addiction in a parent amenable to treatment
- A short term incarceration
- Discipline which harms the child by a parent who is amenable to parent education
As a general proposition, the Court has an obligation to fix the problem that brought the family to the attention of the Court in the first place. When the problem cannot be fixed in a reasonable period of time given the age of the child, the termination of parental rights option is considered. There is time pressure on DHHS and the courts to resolve the issues in the case and return the children to parental care.
In cases where the time pressure is moving the case toward termination of parental rights, parent attorneys often propose a guardianship with a fit relative in order to avoid litigating the termination option. The one paragraph order in In re Timon serves as an endorsement of the guardianship option. In this case, the trial judge expressed a generalized concern about whether a guardianship was in the best interest of the minor because of the lack of permanency. The Michigan Supreme Court Stated:
On remand, the trial court shall make an individualized determination as to whether terminating respondent’s parental rights is in the best interests of respondent’s youngest child without regard to a generalized policy disfavoring guardianship for children under the age of 14.
The remand means that the parent in this case can present evidence on the best interest of the child and will not be terminated based upon a trial judge’s policy disfavoring guardianship. Although it is difficult to predict how this family will fare in future hearings, parent attorneys around the state will be invoking this Order in their attempts to get fair hearings for parents hoping to avoid termination.