In In re GRD (Docket No. 333131), the Court of Appeals addressed whether the rule of In re Mason, 486 Mich 142; 782 NW2d 747 (2010)—that a parent’s rights may not be terminated solely on the basis of parental incarceration in a Juvenile Code case—also applied to an Adoption Code case.
In Mason, the Michigan Supreme Court was simply interpreting MCL 712A.19b(3)(h), which allows parental rights to be terminated under the Juvenile Code where “[t]he parent is imprisoned for such a period that the child will be deprived of a normal home for a period exceeding 2 years, and the parent has not provided for the child’s proper care and custody, and there is no reasonable expectation that the parent will be able to provide proper care and custody within a reasonable time considering the child’s age.” The Court noted that the statutory provision requires more than mere incarceration—with three individual elements that must be satisfied. The Court also held that the parent need not personally care for the child in order to maintain his parental rights—he could arrange for care by his relatives instead.
In GRD, the respondent attempted to apply this same rule to a termination under the Adoption Code, arguing that his rights could not be terminated merely because he was incarcerated, when his relatives could care for the child in his stead. The Court of Appeals rejected his argument, stating that an Adoption Code termination (for a father who never supported the mother during her pregnancy) follows a completely different statutory framework than a Juvenile Code termination. Contrary to the Juvenile Code, which allows for the provision of care by relatives, the Adoption Code requires inquiry specifically into the putative father’s fitness and ability to care for the child. Thus, it was proper for the trial court to conclude that because the father would be incarcerated for another three years, he was unfit and unable to care for the child.