by Wendy Alton
The Michigan Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this afternoon, Wednesday, October 6, 2010, on the case of In re Beck, opinion per curiam of the Court of Appeals, issued March 4, 2010 (Docket No. 293138) FOR PUBLICATION. The sole issue for the Michigan Supreme Court is whether a parent whose rights to his children have been involuntarily terminated pursuant to the Juvenile Code can be ordered to continue to pay child support.
In the Beck case, a father’s parental rights were terminated pursuant to the Juvenile Code in the Oakland County Circuit Court, meaning that they were terminated involuntarily due to abuse or neglect. However, despite the fact that his rights were terminated, the trial court ruled that his child support obligation would continue. The father appealed the trial court’s decision.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, and held that there was a difference between a parent’s rights and a parent’s responsibilities. The Michigan Legislature permits a court to terminate a parent’s rights, but is silent regarding a parent’s responsibilities if rights are terminated. The Court of Appeals ruled that children have a right to receive financial support from their parents, and this right cannot be bargained away by the parents. Further, a parent’s responsibility or financial liability to the child has always been treated distinctly from a parent’s rights. For example, a parent isn’t denied parenting time just because they are behind or delinquent on child support.
The Court of Appeals noted that they previously ruled in Evink v Evink, 214 Mich App 172 (1995), that a parent who voluntarily releases parental rights to the other parent is still required to pay child support. The Court of Appeals also noted that the only situation where a parent’s child support obligation is extinguished is if the parental rights are voluntarily given up pursuant to an adoption, as the court held in Bradley v Fulgham, 200 Mich App 156 (1993).
Lastly, in Beck, the Court of Appeals reasoned that it was against public policy to extinguish a parent’s duty to pay child support when their rights have been involuntarily terminated. This could result in parents refusing to report abuse or neglect because it would result in the removal of financial support. It also punishes a child financially for the misdeeds of the parent.
It will be interesting to see how the Michigan Supreme Court will rule, considering that the Legislature is silent on this issue, and the Court of Appeals has ruled, in the law’s silence, that a child support obligation continues after an involuntary termination of parental rights.
If you are interested in learning more about child support, divorce or family law, please call Wendy Alton at 248-380-9976 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.