If a parent or caretaker does or fails to do something that qualifies as neglect or abuse under the law, the Department of Human Services can ask a Court to take “jurisdiction” of your child. Jurisdiction means that your parental rights are temporarily suspended and the Court gets to make decisions about your child. There are court hearings and standards for the Court and the Department to follow and you are entitled to a jury trial for a jury to decide if the court should have jurisdiction. You can also plead to jurisdiction, meaning you can agree to allow the court to have jurisdiction. Once the court has jurisdiction, your parental rights can later be terminated. So, what if you have done nothing wrong, but the child’s other parent has?
When the Court has jurisdiction, it has jurisdiction over the child, which means it can enter just about any order if it relates to the child. So even if you did nothing wrong, the court can order you to do things like take parenting classes, modify your visitation, or insist your child live someplace else. This is referred to in the legal arena as the “one-parent doctrine.” If “one parent” has abused or neglected the child, then the other parent (the non-offending parent) is “on the hook” as far as the Court goes, meaning the non-offending parent’s rights are subject to termination often by the abusive parent agreeing to give the Court jurisdiction. All too often, this results in the non-offending parent being ordered to take certain actions or do certain things that he or she does not believe is necessary or in the child’s best interest. If the non-offending parent fails or refuses, his or her rights can be terminated.
The question becomes, not only is it right, but is it Constitutional? If you have done nothing wrong, should you be subject to Court orders regarding your child and should your parental rights be subject to termination? It is easy to say, “Well, if you’re doing nothing wrong, what do you have to worry about?”, but the reality is that if the Department looks hard enough, they can find something. Parents who work full time and have other obligations find it difficult to get time off work to attend Court hearings or to attend counseling in the middle of the day. More importantly, if you are doing something wrong, you should have the same opportunity as the other parent who did something wrong, which is to accept the jurisdiction or to have a trial to determine if it is necessary. The Constitution exists to make sure that your rights are protected, and that you are not subject to government interference without just cause.
At long last, the Michigan Supreme Court will address this issue, having granted leave in In re Sanders, ___ Mich ___; WL 1395738 (April 5, 2013). The Michigan Supreme Court will address whether the “one parent doctrine” is a violation of due process and equal protection clause of the constitution. This decision will have serious implications for families in Michigan and has been ignored for too long.