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In re Miller Minors

Posted on Monday, May 7, 2018

The Michigan Court of Appeals issued the very first decision (published or unpublished) under the Safe Delivery of Newborn Act (SDNA), MCL 712.1 et seq., which has existed since 2000.

Under the SDNA, a parent can surrender a newborn to a hospital or emergency provider within 3 days of birth and, after certain procedures are followed, the parental rights of both surrendering parent and non-surrendering parent could be terminated and child could be adopted. The SDNA was enacted to reduce the number of newborns who were abandoned in dumpsters, public restrooms, and the like, and as a way to save those babies’ lives and to help them achieve permanency with a loving adoptive family. A majority of states have some form of SDNA.

In In re Miller Minors, newborn twins were born at the hospital, where the mother surrendered them. As permitted by the statute, the mother (Surrendering Parent) did not identify the father. Pursuant to the statute, the hospital social worker attempted to learn as much as she could about both the surrendering parent and non-surrendering parent-again where the surrendering parent is not required to give any information. The hospital contacted an adoption agency, who placed the twins with prospective adoptive parents. 

Without the name of the non-surrendering parent, the agency followed the statute and published notice in a newspaper within 28 days of the surrender, in the county where the twins were born. After 28 days of surrender and from notice, neither the surrendering parent nor the non-surrendering parent came forward to claim the children. Under the statute, the trial court must then terminate parental rights of both surrendering and non-surrendering parent so the children can be adopted.

In Miller, more than 3 months after the time period for the agency to provide publication notice, the Department of Vital Records returned a birth certificate that named a “father” for the children. Presumably, the Department of Vital Records included that name because there was some record the surrendering parent had married this person, although it is unclear how the Department of Vital Records would have known if the couple had divorced in another state, whether the man died in another state, and so on. Notably, effective January 18, 2018, the Legislature amended the Vital Records Act so that birth certificates issued for safe surrenders would only identify the parents as “unknown” and the newborn as “Baby Doe.” The Vital Records Act was amended to increase surrendering parents’ use of the SDNA without fear of their name or the non-surrendering parents’ name appearing on the birth certificate– the idea being that more surrendering parents would safely surrender and thus save more lives.

The trial court in this case, however, concluded that the SDNA did not apply to married parents because The Court of Appeals reversed and held that SDNA applied to any kind of surrendering or non-surrendering parent, whether married or not.

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