The COA released a published opinion providing some clarification on whether paternity actions can ever take precedence over adoption proceedings. In MKK, Minor, the COA reversed the trial court's order denying the putative father's motion to stay adoption proceedings pending resolution of his paternity action. The COA also reversed the trial court's order denying him custody of the minor child.
The putative father filed his paternity action in April 2008. Just a month later, a petition to adopt was filed along with the birth mother's petition for a hearing to identify the father and terminate his parental rights. The putative father argued that the adoption proceedings should be stayed pending the outcome of the paternity action because the paternity action would render the adoption proceedings moot. At the hearing, DNA results were revealed showing a 99.99 probability that the putative father was, in fact, the child's biological father. Despite this evidence, his motion to stay the adoption proceedings was denied. The court continued with a best interest hearing under the adoption code, finding that custody with the putative father was not in the child's best interest, but declining to terminate his parental rights.
The COA cited the statutory exception to the statutory mandate that adoption proceedings take priority reasoning adoption proceedings may be stayed upon a showing of good cause, to be determined on a case-by-case basis. The COA held that the trial court erred in denying the motion in this particular case because the putative father was the biological father, wished to be present for the child's birth, had been diligent in attempting to perfect paternity, and he had made efforts to prepare for fatherhood.
Foreshadowing commentary to come, the COA stated, "we do not intend to create a "race to the courthouse," where a paternity action takes precedence over an adoption proceeding merely because the paternity action was filed first; rather, the timing of a paternity claim is but one factor to be considered in determining whether there is good cause under MCL 710.25(2) to stay adoption proceedings." It further explained that because Michigan courts follow the presumption that the best interests of a child are served by awarding custody to the natural parents, giving a paternity action priority over an adoption proceeding does not necessarily conflict with protecting the best interests of the child.
Given the conflicting views on the interplay between the Adoption Code and Paternity Act, there is sure to be substantial commentary on this new opinion--"stay" tuned!