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May 08, 2015

COA holds that a parent’s failure and inability to protect children from abuse supports termination of that parent’s rights

In In re Gonzales & Martinez, No. 324168, the Court of Appeals held that, although the abuser of a mother’s two children was in jail and likely to be deported, the  mother still showed an inability to protect them from future abuse; therefore, her parental rights were properly terminated.
The respondent in this case had her parental rights terminated after a hearing before a referee. Her rights were terminated based on clear and convincing evidence satisfying the following statutes:
  • MCL 712A.19b(3)(b)(ii), which requires “that the child or a sibling of the child has suffered physical injury or physical or sexual abuse” and the parent had “the opportunity to prevent the [injury or abuse] and failed to do so, and the court finds that there is a reasonable likelihood that the child will suffer injury or abuse in the foreseeable future if placed in the parent’s home”;
  • MCL 712A.19b(3)(g), which requires that the parent “without regard to intent, fails to provide proper care or custody for the child and there is no reasonable expectation that the parent will be able to provide proper care or custody within a reasonable time considering the child’s age”; and
  • MCL 712A.19b(3)(j), which requires that “there is a reasonable likelihood, based on the conduct or capacity of the child’s parent, that the child will be harmed if he or she is returned to the home of the parent.”
The state provided clear and convincing evidence on each of these points. First, there was evidence, including testimony from the children, that the children were sexually abused by the respondent’s boyfriend. The respondent called one child a liar regarding the sexual abuse, apparently “coached” the other child’s response to questions about the abuse, and maintained a relationship with the allegedly-abusive boyfriend. Her reluctance to end the dating relationship in the face of alleged abuse was enough to satisfy Section 19b(3)(b)(ii).
The respondent argued that her rights should not be terminated under Section 19b(3)(b)(ii), because her boyfriend was in jail at the time of the hearing and was likely to be deported. But the Court of Appeals was not merely concerned with repeated abuse by the boyfriend. Instead, the Court of Appeals held that the respondent’s failure to protect her children from sexual abuse showed a “reasonable likelihood that the [children] will suffer injury or abuse in the foreseeable future if placed in the parent’s home.” MCL 712A.19b(3)(b)(ii).
The Court of Appeals listed a litany of reasons why the respondent’s rights were justly terminated under Sections 19b(3)(g) and (3)(j). The respondent had several times tested positive for cocaine use; she also failed to follow through with substance-abuse and mental-health treatments. She was unemployed and received social security disability as her only income. She was living with an 83-year-old man, who told the respondent’s caseworker that they were sexually active together. Finally, the respondent had criminal charges pending against her. All of this added up to a “failure to provide proper care or custody” and a “reasonable likelihood” that the children would be harmed if they returned to respondent’s home.  The Court of Appeals, therefore, held that the trial court did not err in terminating the respondent’s parental rights.

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