Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
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The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court was the constitutionality of Michigan’s one-parent doctrine. The one-parent doctrine essentially imposes joint and several liability on both parents, potentially divesting either of custody, on the basis of the unfitness of one. "Merely describing the doctrine foreshadows its constitutional weakness." Upon petition by the Department of Human Services (DHS), the trial court adjudicated respondent-mother, Tammy Sanders, as unfit but dismissed the allegations of abuse and neglect against respondent-appellant-father, Lance Laird. Laird moved for his children to be placed with him. Although Laird was never adjudicated as unfit, the trial court denied Laird’s motion, limited his contact with his children, and ordered him to comply with a service plan. The trial court relied on the one-parent doctrine and the Court of Appeals’ decision in "In re CR," (646 NW2d 506 (2002)), from which that doctrine derives. Laird argued that the one-parent doctrine violated his fundamental right to direct the care, custody, and control of his children because it permits the court to enter dispositional orders affecting that right without first determining that he was an unfit parent. The Supreme Court agreed: because application of the one-parent doctrine impermissibly infringed the fundamental rights of unadjudicated parents without providing adequate process, the Court held that it was unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. View "In re Sanders" on Justia Law

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In February 2008, the Department of Human Services (DHS) removed COH, ERH, JRG, and KBH from their mother’s care. The children were initially placed in two separate foster homes; however, in October 2008, all of the children were placed with Holy Cross Children’s Services. The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court concerned the interplay between MCL 722.954a and MCL 712A.19c, and whether the preference for placement with relatives created by MCL 722.954a was relevant to a court’s consideration of a petition to appoint a guardian under MCL 712A.19c(2). Because the Court concluded that the two statutes applied at different and distinct stages of child protective proceedings, the Court held that hold that there was no preference for placement with relatives as part of a guardianship determination under MCL 712A.19c(2). Accordingly, because the Court of Appeals in this case applied a preference in favor of creating a guardianship with a relative in support of its decision to reverse the trial court, the Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Appeals erred. View "In re COH, ERH, JRG, KBH" on Justia Law

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In combined cases, the Supreme Court examined the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to decide whether several issues relating to the Act's notice provision mandate notice be sent to the appropriate tribe or to the Secretary of the Interior. Because the question of whether notice violations occurred in these cases began with determining whether the tribal-notice requirement was triggered, the Court first considered what indicia of Indian heritage sufficed to trigger the notice requirement. Further, the Court then considered whether a parent could waive the rights granted by ICWA to an Indian child's tribe and determine the appropriate recordkeeping requirements necessary to document the trial court's efforts to comply with ICWA's notice provision. "While it is impossible to articulate a precise rule that will encompass every possible factual situation, in light of the interests protected by ICWA, the potentially high costs of erroneously concluding that notice need not be sent, and the relatively low burden of erring in favor of requiring notice, we think the standard for triggering the notice requirement of 25 USC 1912(a) must be a cautionary one." Upon review, the Supreme Court held that: (1) sufficiently reliable information of virtually any criteria on which tribal membership might be based suffices to trigger the notice requirement; (2) a parent of an Indian child cannot waive the separate and independent ICWA rights of an Indian child's tribe and that the trial court must maintain a documentary record; and (3) the proper remedy for an ICWA-notice violation is to conditionally reverse the trial court and remand for resolution of the ICWA-notice issue.

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In combined cases, the Supreme Court examined the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to decide whether several issues relating to the Act's notice provision mandate notice be sent to the appropriate tribe or to the Secretary of the Interior. Because the question of whether notice violations occurred in these cases began with determining whether the tribal-notice requirement was triggered, the Court first considered what indicia of Indian heritage sufficed to trigger the notice requirement. Further, the Court then considered whether a parent could waive the rights granted by ICWA to an Indian child's tribe and determine the appropriate recordkeeping requirements necessary to document the trial court's efforts to comply with ICWA's notice provision. "While it is impossible to articulate a precise rule that will encompass every possible factual situation, in light of the interests protected by ICWA, the potentially high costs of erroneously concluding that notice need not be sent, and the relatively low burden of erring in favor of requiring notice, we think the standard for triggering the notice requirement of 25 USC 1912(a) must be a cautionary one." Upon review, the Supreme Court held that: (1) sufficiently reliable information of virtually any criteria on which tribal membership might be based suffices to trigger the notice requirement; (2) a parent of an Indian child cannot waive the separate and independent ICWA rights of an Indian child's tribe and that the trial court must maintain a documentary record; and (3) the proper remedy for an ICWA-notice violation is to conditionally reverse the trial court and remand for resolution of the ICWA-notice issue.