Parents have a fundamental constitutional right to care for their children, but for 70 years, Michigan has allowed courts to take one parent’s children away because of the behavior of the other parent. But on June 2, 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court put an end to the practice by ruling the “One Parent Doctrine” unconstitutional.
The One Parent Doctrine has been a concern for fit parents and their family lawyers for years. Despite their best efforts, fit parents have had their children removed from their care. Then courts have required them to jump through intense and often unmanageable hoops to get their children back – all because the other parent had been found unfit.
The Michigan Supreme Court said this doctrine deprived fit parents of due process, contrary to the 14th Amendment. Due process guarantees that before a person’s fundamental rights are taken away, the person gets a chance to defend themselves. This is usually done through a hearing where the person is allowed to present evidence and where the government must prove the allegations against the person.
But the One Parent Doctrine allowed the government to skip the hearing against one parent, as long as the other had been found unfit. In the supreme court case the petition against dad had been dismissed after mom pleaded “no contest” to allegations of using illicit drugs. Because the fit parent had no active case against him, dad was not allowed to object to the removal of the children from his home. The Court said that process did not satisfy the constitution. Before the court could deprive him of his fundamental right to care for his children, it had to determine he, not just the mother, was unfit.
This is a big change for parents and family lawyers in Michigan. It reduces the fear that if Child Protective Services (CPS) gets involved both parents will lose custody of the child. It also makes it safer for fit parents to call CPS for help when their co-parent is mistreating their children. For a long time CPS has been the boogeyman of family law. This new ruling will help bring the agency’s practices in line with their purpose – to protect children.
If your children have an unfit parent, contact family lawyer Lisa J. Schmidt. She may be able to help you modify your custody arrangement and keep your children safe.