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The Court of Appeals Addresses One Parent Doctrine Based on Plea of Nonparent Adult

Posted on Monday, May 14, 2018

The Court of Appeals has addressed the one-parent in the context of a plea taken from a nonparent adult, In re Slater/Wiemer, issued March 25, 2014 (Docket 317132). The one-parent doctrine is still pending before the Michigan Supreme Court In re Sanders/Laird, which has challenged the idea that one parent can offer a plea to the jurisdiction in a child welfare case which will drag a non-offending, non-respondent, presumptively parent into the child welfare proceeding. Applying the one-parent doctrine to the context of a plea by a nonparent adult is even more disturbing. But that is for another day and may be impacted by the Supreme Court's decision in Sanders.

What was even more disturbing about the Court of Appeals decision in In re Slater/Wiemer, is the Court's incorrect enunciation of the law as to the consequence of adjudication in a child welfare proceeding. The majority opinion states that the adjudicatory phase does not focus on whether parents are unfit to care for the children. This is absolutely an incorrect statement of law. To adjudicate in a child welfare case, the prosecutor has to show, for example, that the home or environment is unfit due to neglect, cruelty, drunkenness, criminality, or depravity. MCL 712A.2(b)(2). How is that not a finding of fitness? I think one of the problems with the one parent doctrine is that it does decide fitness. Once there is adjudication, the parents can and are placed on the central registry for abuse and neglect.  Also concerning about the decision is the premise it espouses that a nonoffending parent has the same procedural protections when the court takes jurisdiction as the offending parent has (or here the nonparent adult). Contrary to this decision, the offending person has the right to an adjudication trial to be decided by a JURY, but instead decides to take a plea. The offending parent gets due process. The nonoffending parent does not. There were also two concurrences to this opinion, one was concur in result only and the other concurrence just mentioned that it wanted to hold the case inabeyance pending Sanders but did not think it could because of the delay to finality.

 

Update: On June 2, 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decisions as to the adjudication and declared the “one-parent doctrine” unconstitutional because it denies the parent’s fundamental right to due process. In re Sanders, 495 Mich 394 (2014). The Court held:

We accordingly hold that due process requires a specific adjudication of a parent's unfitness before the state can infringe the constitutionally protected parent-child relationship. In doing so, we announce no new constitutional right. Rather, we affirm that an old constitutional right—a parent's right to control the care, custody, and control of his or her children—applies to everyone, which is the very nature of constitutional rights. Because the one-parent doctrine allows the court to deprive a parent of this fundamental right without any finding that he or she is unfit, it is an unconstitutional violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. We therefore overrule In re CR vacate the order of the trial court, and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is not clear what happened to the parent’s in Slater/Wiemer after the Court of Appeals’ decision. The parent filed an application in the Supreme Court, which was held in abeyance pending In re Farris (a case involving the application of In re Sanders), but then the Supreme Court eventually dismissed Slater/Wiemer without a decision because the trial court case had been dismissed. Potentially, this was due to DHHS abandoning the case after the Supreme Court decided In re Sanders.

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