New Adoption Law Creates Procedure for a Father's Custody Challenge
Last Tuesday, Governor Rick Snyder signed a new adoption law designed to accommodate a biological father's standing to establish his parental rights and suspend pending adoption proceedings. In such cases, the child is returned to the Mother, and remains under the jurisdiction of the county family court.
Most family court professionals will recognize this procedure as the path to take in nearly all cases. A recent case from Ottawa County, however, resulted in a 13-page published [and thus binding] appellate opinion that resulted in awarding Father full custody of an infant when he challenged Mother's adoption petition. In Johnson v Byron, Father successfully utilized the "she was giving-up the baby anyway" argument, a commonly un-persuasive assertion, but one that prevailed in both the Ottawa Family Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals, presumably due to the unusually dysfunctional parental dynamics [i.e. a concealed pregnancy, expedited adoption, heroin, marijuana, pills, booze, the works].
The new law calls for the child to be returned to the Mother upon Father's filing of a timely challenge to the adoption proceedings. In such cases, the temporary adoption placement is terminated and Mother's petition is dismissed; custody of the child is then determined by the county family court, with Father's parental rights intact.
The local Friend of the Court then gets involved in the custody determination through the application of the Child Custody Act, rather than through a "best interest" hearing under the now-revised adoption law.
Members of the Republican caucus in the Michigan House were apparently sufficiently moved by outcomes in Byron and cases like it to reach out to the Adoption Committee of the State Bar of Michigan's Family Law Section; the Committee authored HB 4648.
In the wake of the new law's passage, many family law professionals commented in the legal news media that the amended adoption law removes a potential trump card from the hands of a previously disinterested and perhaps irresponsible biological father; it levels the field for both parents, giving the Father a voice in lieu of punishing Mother for her decision to seek adoption.
We here at the Law Blogger believe that this law makes good sense.