In Howard v. Howard, No. 323124
, the Court of Appeals held that in custody disputes initiated by natural parents, Michigan’s Child Custody Act allows third-party custodians to contest a natural parent’s claim that awarding custody to the natural parent serves a child’s best interests. Therefore, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order granting custody to a third-party custodian.
Defendant Howard (“Defendant”) and Tyronna Howard had two minor children. The couple divorced and the court granted Tyronna primary physical custody with extensive parenting time to Defendant. Tyronna fell ill and prior to her death, her children moved in with her brother, Blackburn. After Tyronna’s death, Defendant filed an ex parte motion to enforce the judgment of divorce and return the children to him, alleging that Blackburn refused to return the children. Blackburn asserted that Tyronna entrusted her children to him because Defendant suffered from several health problems and lived in a one-bedroom assisted living facility. Defendant argued Blackburn lacked standing and should not be allowed to participate in the proceedings. Defendant also claimed the parental presumption owed to natural parents under MCL 722.25(1) was in his favor, and no third party with standing could rebut the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. The trial court found that it was in the minor children’s best interests to award Blackburn custody. The primary issue on appeal involved whether Blackburn lacked standing to rebut the parental presumption under MCL 722.25(1).
The Court of Appeals held that whether Blackburn had standing was not an issue because Defendant initiated the custody dispute against Blackburn. The court agreed that under MCL 722.25(1), there is a presumption that the best interests of a child are served by awarding custody to the natural parent, unless the contrary is established by clear and convincing evidence. However, the presumption can be rebutted. The court reasoned that the plain language of MCL 722.25(1) allowed Blackburn, a third-party custodian, to present evidence contesting Defendant’s claim that awarding custody to him served the children’s best interests. Accordingly, the trial court properly applied the parental presumption in MCL 722.25(1), conducted a best-interest hearing, and allowed Blackburn to present evidence rebutting the parental presumption. Therefore, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s determination.