I receive many calls/questions regarding termination of parental rights, from both mothers and fathers. Many women want to know if they can terminate the child’s father’s rights because the father has abandoned the child by not visiting or contacting the child, or by never paying child support. I have also received calls from father’s that say that they have never been allowed to visit the child; and/or they have child support arrears and they would like to terminate their rights to avoid child support or to clear arrears. Here are the facts on terminating parental rights:
Parental rights are usually only terminated in Michigan under two circumstances; either by the court pursuant to a neglect or abuse case (either involuntarily or voluntarily); or because a step-parent would like to adopt the child(ren). A custodial parent cannot just terminate the non-custodial parent’s rights just because they want to, even if the non-custodial parent has abandoned the child(ren), or has not paid support. The only way to terminate the non-custodial parent’s rights is if certain criteria are met and a step-parent (the custodial parent’s spouse) wants to adopt the child(ren).
The criteria for terminating a person’s rights for a step-parent adoption are as follows:
- The non-custodial parent must have failed to provide substantial and regular support for the child for at least two (2) years and must have had the ability to provide such support.
- The non-custodial parent did not communicate with the child for at least two (2) years immediately prior to the petition being filed with the court. MCL 710.51(6). According to case law, there must be more than a couple of phone calls and one or two visits during the two year time period. Further, just because someone is incarcerated during that time period, does not mean they do not have the ability to communicate with the child. There is no “incarcerated parent” exception to the rule.
Another way to terminate rights is to have the parent sign a voluntary consent. This form is usually called a “Custody Statement.” This document states that the parent either acknowledges that they are the biological parent; that they may be the biological parent; or deny that they are the parent. In each of these cases, the party is agreeing that they do not want any custody rights to the child(ren). Upon signing the form, the parent’s rights will be terminated. MCL 710.37. The parent signing this form does not need to appear before the court. Even if a parent is agreeable to signing away their rights, it does not waive any responsibility for that party to pay child support. Support will still accrue and any arrears will still be due.
If you have any family law questions please contact David Lutz at (248) 624-5500
For more information on Michigan Law add us on facebook!!