Michigan Supreme Court orders arguments in grandparenting visitation case


by Ed Wesoloski
Dolan Media Newswires
DETROIT, MI -- --The Michigan Supreme Court is determining whether to review a Court of Appeals ruling that a child’s grandparents had no right to seek visitation of their deceased son’s child because a court involuntarily terminated the son’s parental rights.
The supreme court has ordered briefing and oral arguments of the split decision in Porter v. Hill (MiLW No. 07-82332, 11 pages (majority opinion) (dissent).
At issue is MCL 722.27b, which provides that a grandparent may seek a grandparenting-time order when the child’s parent “who is a child of the grandparents is deceased.” The Court of Appeals majority said the word “parent” is defined as “the natural or adoptive parent of a child’s natural or adoptive parent.”
The majority conceded that the statute seemed to support a bid for grandparent visitation because it provides for grandparent visitation even when a child’s parent has been stripped of parental rights. See, Grandparents can’t seek visitation because son’s parental rights were involuntarily terminated, MiLW June 14, 2013.
But in denying the visitation request, Judge Patrick M. Meter, joined by Judge E. Thomas Fitzgerald, concluded that the Legislature “likely” included termination language in MCL 722.27b(5) for situations where a parent voluntarily released rights for a stepparent adoption. The majority invited the legislature to clarify that the “second sentence of MCL 722.27b(5)” does not apply in cases where parental rights were involuntarily terminated.
Dissenting Judge Mark T. Boonstra criticized the majority, stating that the legislature’s “likely” intent was based on the majority’s “policy preferences.
The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered the parties to address:
“(1) whether the parents of a man whose parental rights to his minor children were terminated prior to his death have standing to seek grandparenting time with the children under the Child Custody Act, MCL 722.21 et seq., and
“(2) whether the term ‘natural parent’ in MCL 722.22(d) and (g) is the equivalent of ‘legal parent’ or ‘biological parent.’”
The State Bar of Michigan’s Family Law Section and other interested parties have been invited to brief the issues as well.
Arguments could be scheduled later in the high court’s 2013-2014 term.
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