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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.

REAL ESTATE 2: Property dispute, intent is not required for a trespass.

In instances of trespass where injunctive relief and actual damages are not warranted, a plaintiff nevertheless is entitled to nominal damages. Because a trespass violates a landholder’s right to exclude others from the premises, the landholder could recover at least nominal damages even in the absence of proof of any other injury.

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