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Can parental rights be terminated for failure to comply with a support order?

The trial court’s opinion and order terminated respondent’s parental rights to the minor child under MCL 710.51(6) (failure to comply with a support order for two years or more and failure to visit, contact, or communicate with the child for two years or more).

Petitioners are the biological mother of the minor child and her husband. Respondent is the child’s biological father. On August 18, 2015, petitioners filed a petition for stepparent adoption of the child and a supplemental petition requesting termination of respondent’s parental rights. On January 11, 2016, the court held a consent hearing, at which respondent objected to the adoption and indicated that he had filed a motion for visitation with the child.

Respondent argued that he substantially complied with the entered support order for the two years preceding the petition.  Petitioners argued that respondent failed to comply substantially with the support order and failed to contact the child for a period of two years or more before the filing of the petition.  The court held a hearing on the parties’ motions. The parties did not dispute the facts, but simply took differing views regarding whether those facts supported termination under MCL 710.51(6).

Following the hearing, the trial court issued a written opinion, concluding that the statutory requirements of MCL 710.51(6)(a) and (b) had been met, and in accordance with respondent’s request, it scheduled a best-interest hearing.  Following the best-interest hearing, the trial court terminated respondent’s parental rights so that the stepparent adoption could proceed.

The trial court terminated respondent’s parental rights pursuant to MCL 710.51(6) of the Adoption Code, which provides the court upon notice and hearing may issue an order terminating the rights of the other parent if both of the following occur:

(a)The other parent, having the ability to support, or assist in supporting, the child, has failed or neglected to provide regular and substantial support for the child or if a support order has been entered, has failed to substantially comply with the order, for a period of 2 years or more before the filing of the petition.

(b)The other parent, having the ability to visit, contact, or communicate with the child, has regularly and substantially failed or neglected to do so for a period of 2 years or more before the filing of the petition.

It is undisputed that respondent was $9,347.51 in arrears on the date of the filing of the petition. He only fulfilled his monthly obligation in full on a few occasions, forcing petitioner-mother to go without child support for a year and a half.  Respondent conceded that he had never sought a reduction in child support payments.  Respondent claims he stopped paying child support when he lost his job, but he admits that he did not seek modification of the support order.

It was undisputed that respondent had not had contact with the child and had not contacted the child’s mother to arrange visits. Consequently, the child had not had parenting time with respondent during the four years prior to petitioners’ filing their petition.  Respondent insisted that he and petitioner agreed that he would not exercise parenting time until his living situation stabilized, and that petition-mother rebuffed his visitation attempts after he achieved stability. However, respondent had a legally enforceable right to maintain a relationship with the child and could have sought relief from the Friend of the Court if petitioner-mother interfered with that right.

Evidence supports that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that termination of respondent’s parental rights was in child’s best interests.

If you are going through a divorce or are separating from the mother or father of your children, it is important to protect your custodial rights.  Seek the advice and guidance of an experienced family law and divorce attorney who will be by your side every step of the way. Additionally, if you feel you are paying too much or not receiving enough, seek out an attorney who has successfully helped many clients receive child support modifications.

FAMILY LAW 88: The trial court found that the children did not have an established custodial environment with defendant because, before the separation, he did not have a large role in the children’s lives.

The trial court credited plaintiff’s testimony that, before the parties’ separation, defendant spent minimal time helping to care for the children, so its finding that the children would not have looked to defendant for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort during that time was not against the great weight of the evidence.

REAL ESTATE 89: RM had not included any language in the deed providing that the property was a joint tenancy with full rights of survivorship, the property instead became a tenancy in common.

RM drafted the deed without seeking counsel and mistakenly believed that, if either she or FK died, the property would fully pass to the surviving tenant. FK’s will provided that if his wife predeceased him—which she did—the personal representative of his estate should sell any residual property that he owned and divide the cash proceeds equally among his surviving children.

FAMILY LAW 83: A trial court can terminate a parent’s rights and permit a stepparent to adopt a child.

A trial court has discretion to terminate a parent’s rights and permit a stepparent to adopt a child when the conditions of MCL 710.51(6) are met. MCL 710.51(6)(b) requires the petitioner to establish that the other parent had the ability to visit, contact, or communicate with the children, and substantially failed or neglected to do so for a period of two years.

PROBATE 53: The trust agreement included an Incontestability Provision.

A settlor’s intent is to be carried out as nearly as possible. Generally, in terrorem clauses are valid and enforceable. However, a provision in a trust that purports to penalize an interested person for contesting the trust or instituting another proceeding relating to the trust shall not be given effect if probable cause exists for instituting a proceeding contesting the trust or another proceeding relating to the trust.

FAMILY LAW 82: Court stated it would terminate the personal protection order (PPO) after the parties present documentation of the initiation of the divorce proceedings.

However, the trial court concluded that these matters should, in fact, be in the province and the jurisdiction of the Family Division and in that respect, having issued a personal protection order, the Court stated it would terminate the personal protection order after the parties present documentation of the initiation of the divorce proceedings.

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