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One Court of Justice Blog

April 24, 2014

MSC rules that relatives receive no statutory preference for guardianship after termination of parental rights

In In re COH, ERH, JRG, KBH Minors the Michigan Supreme Court held that the preference for placing a child with relatives, which applies when DHS makes its initial placement decision, does not apply when the court is appointing a guardian after parental rights have been terminated.  The statute governing child placement after initial removal from parental care and during the review process, MCL 722.954a, expressly gives preference to the child's relatives.  The Court did not find any statutory language evidencing an intent for the preference to apply beyond the time frame set forth in that statute.  The statute governing the child's placement after parental rights have been terminated, MCL 712A.19c, does not direct the court to apply any particular factors when determining whether appointing a guardian is in the child's best interest.  Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that the trial court has discretion to determine how best to analyze the child's best interest.  The Supreme Court further explained that while the Adoption Code and Child Custody Act provide useful list of factors to consider when making a best interest decision, there is nothing in the statutory language that requires the trial court to apply all the factors to every case.  The trial court is free to consider a unique set of factors depending on the facts of a particular case. 

In this case, the trial court applied best-interest factors from the Child Custody Act, which do not give a preference to placing a child with relatives.  The children's grandmother, who was petitioning for guardianship, appealed.  The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, and concluded that a preference for placement existed under MCL 712.19c, which should have been applied during the guardianship proceedings.  The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, and held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by applying the best-interest factors from the Child Custody Act, and that the Court of Appeals erroneously substituted its judgment for the trial court's on questions of fact. 

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