Monday, August 4, 2014

Michigan Supreme Court Rules One Parent Doctrine Unconstitutional

By:  Carole L. Chiamp

On June 4, 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a doctrine that allows authorities to remove children from both parents’ custody when only one is deemed unfit.

The doctrine has been law for 70 years but the ruling determined that it infringes on the due process rights of the parent who was not adjudicated unfit.

The Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) sought and won jurisdiction over the minor children of Tammy Sanders and Lance Laird after their youngest child was born with drugs in his system.  Later it was found that Laird who received custody of the children also tested positive for cocaine.  Further, he allowed Sanders to see the children unsupervised in violation of a court order.

At a preliminary hearing the court removed the children from Laird’s custody and placed them with DHS.  Larid asked that the children be placed with an aunt.  Laird obtained a dismissal of charges against him and asked for the children based on their being no adjudication of his being unfit as a parent.  The court ruled that because there was an adjudication against Sanders who had admitted that she was unfit and was adjudicated as unfit, Laird could not have the children under the “one-parent doctrine” which states that if one parent is unfit, the other is also deemed unfit.. 

The Court of Appeals refused to hear the case.  The Michigan Supreme Court took the case and found:

Application of the one-parent doctrine impermissibly infringes the fundamental rights of unadjudicated parents without providing adequate process, and the doctrine is consequently unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Due process requires a specific adjudication of a parent’s unfitness before the state can infringe that parent’s constitutionally protected parent-child relationship.

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