In this case, Petitioner-mother and respondent-father were married for approximately 4½ years. In 2013, petitioner gave birth to a son, NH. Five months after respondent filed for divorce in 2016, petitioner gave birth to a daughter, EH. The consent judgment of divorce entered March 20, 2017, gave the parties joint legal custody of the children, but awarded petitioner physical custody. The parties agreed to a flexible parenting-time arrangement. Respondent-father was also ordered to pay $220 monthly in child support.
Petition to Terminate Parental Rights
Petitioner met her now-husband, ZT, the same month that the divorce was finalized. The couple moved in together and eventually married. In February 2020, petitioner and ZT asked respondent if he would agree to ZT adopting NH and EH. Respondent refused. A year later, petitioner and ZT filed petitions in the current actions to terminate respondent’s parental rights and to permit ZT to adopt the children.
In their petition, petitioner and ZT alleged that respondent had not provided the financial support required by court order. They further asserted that respondent had not visited, contacted, or communicated with the children in the previous two years.
At an evidentiary hearing, respondent admitted that he had not paid child support as ordered. Respondent also admitted that he had not visited with the children during the relevant two-year period from May 6, 2019, to May 6, 2021.
Even had petitioner completely blocked respondent’s access to the children (which the record does not substantiate), respondent still had the ability to visit, contact, or communicate with the children. The divorce judgment gave respondent the right to visit the children according to an alternative schedule in the event the parties could not agree on to reasonable parenting time. Respondent insisted that he did not believe the court could help him as he and petitioner had opted out of the Friend of the Court system.
Terminate Parental Rights
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.
Despite having the ability to visit his children by making even a minimal effort to enforce the divorce judgment or simply by mailing the children presents and cards, respondent last saw his children on February 3, 2019, and last spoke with NH sometime in April 2019. Accordingly, there is no factual dispute that respondent has regularly and substantially failed or neglected to visit, contact, or communicate with his children for the requisite two-year period.
Assistance With Custody
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