In this case, the parties’ son was born in 2003. When he was one-year-old, a court order was entered giving father parenting time on Sundays and awarding mother child support. The father exercised his parenting time on a spotty basis until approximately 2006. He testified that he originally complied with the order but when disputes arose concerning parenting time, he just got tired of it and did not make further efforts to see his child. From age 3 to age 12, the child had no contact with his father. In 2015, the father filed a motion to enforce parenting time, reduce child support, and modify parenting. At a March 24, 2015 hearing, the father expressed his desire to be involved in his son’s life, but the court declined to enforce parenting time due to father’s extended absence. However, the mother did not oppose reintroducing father into the son’s life on a gradual basis, and the referee recommended altered parenting time on an increasing schedule. Thereafter, a consent order was entered on September 27, 2015, and father was granted parenting time one weekend a month.
On January 17, 2017, a hearing was held regarding father’s second parenting time enforcement request. The mother testified that father had missed three consecutive months of visits in October, November, and December of 2016, and that he had not contacted her about those missed visits. The father explained that he lost his cellphone, which contained mother’s telephone number, and faulted the mother for not contacting him. He sent a message to mother on Facebook that went unanswered, and he did not attempt to write to the mother or son or visit their home. Once again, a referee determined that the mother did not wrongfully deny parenting time to father.
On February 2, 2017, the mother initiated a petition for stepparent adoption and termination of parental rights, alleging father’s substantial noncompliance with parenting time and his failure to comply with the child support order.
MCL 710.51(6) provides for termination of a natural parent’s rights in the context of stepparent adoption under the following conditions:
- If the parents of a child are divorced, or if the parents are unmarried but the father has acknowledged paternity or is a putative father who meets the conditions in section 39(2) of this chapter, and if the parent having legal custody of the child subsequently marries and that parent’s spouse petitions to adopt the child, 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.
The petitioner has the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that termination of the noncustodial parent’s rights is warranted. In order to terminate parental rights, the court must find that the requirements of subsections (a) and (b) are both satisfied. Additionally, even if the petitioner proves the enumerated circumstances that allow for termination, a court need not grant termination if it finds that it would not be in the best interests of the child.
The lower court found the mother had established the requirements of subsection (a) by clear and convincing evidence. With respect to subsection (b), the father exercised only a little over half of his allotted parenting time, so the court must also consider whether termination of respondent’s parental rights is in the son’s best interests.
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