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A Better Partnership
December 20, 2016

COA holds that a circuit court must always hold an adjudicative proceeding prior to a dispositional proceeding with respect to child protective proceedings

The two phases of a child protective proceeding, adjudicative and dispositional, must be distinct and must occur in that order.  In In re J. Thompson, Minor, No. 333294, the Court of Appeals highlighted the procedural importance of exercising jurisdiction over a child prior to a dispositional proceeding.
 
Child protective proceedings are divided into two distinct phases, adjudicative and dispositional; the two may not be converged such that there is no distinction. In re AMAC, 269 Mich App 533, 536, 538; 711 NW2d 426 (2006). Further, MCR 30977(E) allows termination of parental rights at an initial dispositional hearing provided a number of conditions are met, notably “(2) that the trier of fact found by a preponderance of the evidence at the adjudicative hearing that the child came within the jurisdiction of the court. . . .”
 
Here, the circuit court terminated respondent’s parental rights in September 2014 following the deaths of two of respondent’s infant children due to unsafe sleeping conditions. During that proceeding, respondent hid from the circuit court that she was pregnant with her fifth child.
 
Following the birth of JT in November 15, 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) filed a petition simultaneously seeking jurisdiction over the child and termination of respondent’s parental rights. The petition was authorized November 19, and JT was placed in foster care following release from the hospital.
 
At a January 23, 2015 hearing, the circuit court found that termination of respondent’s parental rights was supported under several factors delineated under MCL 712A.19b(3), and held termination of respondent’s rights was in JT’s best interests. At the conclusion of the termination decision, DHHS counsel inquired of the court as to findings of jurisdiction for the record. The court stated it found by more than a preponderance of evidence it should take jurisdiction in the matter.
 
The Court of Appeals reversed.  The circuit court erred first by combining both distinct phases of the child protective proceedings.  It also erred by holding the dispositional hearing prior to obtaining jurisdiction over the child.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeals vacated and remanded the case for further proceedings.
 

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