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Grandparents Lack Standing When Parental Rights Are Terminated

By: Amanda Chapman

A recent 2-1 Michigan Court of Appeals decision published earlier This specific month, Porter v Hill, ruled in which when a “natural” parent’s rights to their child are terminated, the grandparents rights are terminated along with the parents.  This specific ruling seems to conflict with the Child Custody Act.

The heart of This specific controversial ruling centers on the definition, or lack thereof, of “natural” parent vs “legal” parent.  At least for at This specific point, grandparents are out-of-luck, in addition to This specific ruling will inflict some pain on select families.
from the Portercase, the bio-Mom in addition to Dad were married with two children.  Mr. Porter’s parental rights to the children were involuntarily terminated as a result of physical abuse.  The parties were subsequently divorced.  Mr. Porter passed away, in addition to his parents (the children’s paternal biological grandparents) then filed suit in Saginaw Circuit Court for grandparenting time with their grandchildren. 
Mother filed a motion for summary disposition, attempting to keep her ex-husband’s parents via establishing rights with her children.  Mother’s legal theory was in which the grandparents did not have standing, or a legal cause of action under these facts. 
Mother’s dispositive motion asserted in which when father’s parental rights were terminated in which, in turn, meant in which any rights grandparents may have had under the grandparenting provisions of the Child Custody Act had been severed as well.  The trial court reluctantly granted mother’s motion for summary disposition, openly acknowledging This specific case could be appealed to the Supreme Court. 
the idea can be important to note in which no determinations have been made, either from the trial court or the appellate court, as to the relative fitness of the Plaintiff-Grandparents, or whether granting grandparenting time could be from the best interests of the children.
A summary disposition motion can be a dispositive motion in which attempts to dismiss the case before the idea proceeds through discover in addition to onward to trial.  The only question considered in This specific instance was whether the grandparents had a legal cause of action (otherwise known as “standing”) to bring the case from the first place.
Michigan’s Child Custody Act includes a section pertaining to grandparenting time which provides in which

[a] child’s grandparent may seek a grandparenting time order under 1 or more of the following circumstances:…  (c) The child’s parent who can be a child of the grandparents can be deceased.

The statute defines “parent” as “the natural or adoptive parent of a child.”  “Grandparent” can be defined as “a natural or adoptive parent of the child’s natural or adoptive parent.  
The Court of Appeals affirmed the family court’s decision, holding:

Russell was not a legal parent of the children…  Plaintiffs, as Russell’s parents, derived their rights as grandparents through him. 

The court further stated in which

the idea could be anomalous for the Legislature to authorize a court to terminate a person’s parental rights based on abuse nevertheless then to somehow “revive” those rights for purposes of grandparent visitation.

Interestingly, Judge Mark Boonstra authored a dissenting opinion.  First, Judge Boonstra noted in which:

[T]he Legislature’s use of the phrase natural parent in addition to its affording to a grandparent of a right to seek grandparenting time independent of parental rights in addition to notwithstanding parental desires…indicate both the plaintiffs …substantial interest in This specific case in addition to in which the statutory scheme at least implies in which the Legislature intended to confer standing on the plaintiffs.

Next, Judge Boonstra pointed out in which the statute:

permits a ‘natural parent’ of a ‘natural parent’ to seek grandparenting time…in addition to there can be no dispute here in which plaintiffs were the ‘natural parents’ of Russell. The only question before us, therefore, can be whether Russell was a ‘natural parent’ of the minor children.

The dissent further goes on to elucidate the fact in which the Child Custody Act does not provide a definition for natural parent.  The words of a statute provide the most reliable indicator of the Legislature’s intent in addition to should be interpreted on the basis of their ordinary meaning in addition to context in which they are used.   An undefined statutory word must be accorded its plain in addition to ordinary meaning…    
In Porter, the grandparents argued in which natural parentshould be interpreted as equivalent to biological parent.  The dissenting opinion supports This specific interpretation on the basis of the plain in addition to ordinary meaning of the word “natural” according to the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary (1991) which defines the idea as “related by blood rather than by adoption.”  Further, the dissent goes on the use Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed) definition of “natural” as “relating to birth” as in a “natural child as distinguished via [an] adopted child.”
The majority opinion based their ruling on equating a natural parent to be the equivalent of a legal parent.   Yet, the dissent astutely pointed out in which the basis of such a determination does not coincide with the plain in addition to ordinary meaning of the word term “natural,” in addition to in fact the term can be much more in-line as being similar to plaintiffs’ proffered “biological” term.  The dissent contends in which “natural parent must connote something more in addition to different than simply having “legal” parental rights.”

Some local family law lawyers have opined in which the majority of the Court of Appeals got This specific one dead wrong.  For at This specific point, however, the majority decision stands.

In its decision, the intermediate appellate court asks the Legislature to clarify their intended meaning of the term natural parent; let’s not hold our breath.    


Grandparents Lack Standing When Parental Rights Are Terminated

Grandparents Chess.jpg
Grandparents Chess.jpg

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