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A Better Partnership
December 23, 2009

COA Opinion: In certain circumstances a paternity action may take priority over an adoption case

On December 22, 2009, the Court of Appeal published its decision in In re MKK, No. 292065.' Here, the Court addressed the' priority between simultaneous paternity and adoption actions involving the same child.' The Court of Appeals concluded that while adoption proceedings are generally to be completed as quickly as possible and given priority on a court's docket, a paternity action can take priority under certain circumstances pursuant to a statutory exception that allows for adjournment/continuance of an adoption proceeding upon a showing of "good cause."' ' According to the Court of Appeals, "good cause" exists to stay adoption proceedings in favor of a paternity action where there is no dispute as to biological paternity, where the paternity action was commenced without unreasonable delay and was' not filed simply to thwart the adoption proceedings.'

In this case, the child's unwed mother informed the putative father that she was pregnant and intended to place the child up for adoption.' The putative father did not agree with this plan and, before the child was born, filed a notice of intent to claim paternity.' On the day the child was born, the mother executed the necessary paperwork to place the child up for adoption with the child's maternal aunt and uncle.' ' A couple of weeks after the child was born, the putative father commenced a paternity action.' A few weeks after the paternity action was filed, the intended adoptive parents filed an adoption petition.' The putative father filed a motion to stay the adoption proceedings pending the outcome of the paternity action.' At the hearing on the motion to stay, DNA test results were presented establishing a 99.99% probability that the putative father was, in fact, the child's biological father.' Nevertheless, the trial court denied the motion to stay.' The Court of Appeals determined that the denial of the motion to stay was reversible error, because the putative father had established good cause for the stay.'

The Court of Appeals noted that, as a general rule, proceedings under the Adoption Code take precedence over actions under the Paternity Act.' The Court, however, cited a provision in the Adoption Code which states "an adjournment or continuance of a proceeding under this chapter shall not be granted without a showing of good cause."' MCL '' 710.25(2).' The Court of Appeals held that, under this section, there may be circumstances where a putative father can make a showing of good cause as to why an adoption proceeding should be stayed in favor of a paternity action.' The Court of Appeals held that a motion to stay an adoption proceeding must be' resolved under the "good cause" standard as applied to the particular circumstances of the case.'

Here, the Court of Appeals noted that there was no dispute over biological paternity, and that the putative father had made a timely and consistent effort to establish paternity.' Specifically, the Court cited efforts to provide support and prepare for fatherhood during the pregnancy, the filing of a notice of intent to claim paternity before the child was born, and the filing of the paternity action shortly after the birth.' ' ' The Court of Appeals concluded that, under these circumstances,' the paternity claim was not filed simply to thwart the adoption.' ' Thus, "respondent established good cause to stay the adoption proceedings in favor of his paternity action.' [The trial judge] erred in denying respondent's motion to stay and proceeding with [the adoption hearings] without first determining the issue of paternity."

Additionally, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's denial of the putative father's motion to disqualify the trial judge on the grounds that the motion was untimely and did not establish the requisite bias or prejudice.

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