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A Better Partnership
November 23, 2015

COA: In light of Obergefell, Equitable Parent Doctrine no longer limited to the confines of marriage as previously defined by Michigan Constitution and statutory law

In Stankevich v. Milliron, No. 310710, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015), requires that Michigan recognize same sex marriage and therefore the Equitable Parent Doctrine extends to persons in same-sex marriages.  In so holding, the Court of Appeals concluded that the plaintiff had standing to seek the status of an equitable parent.
Stankevich and Milliron entered into a same-sex marriage in Canada in 2007.  During the marriage, Milliron gave birth to the couple’s child.  In 2009, the couple separated and agreed to a visitation schedule.  Subsequently, the parties could no longer agree on the visitation schedule and Stankevich filed a complaint in which she sought an order regarding custody, parenting time, and child support.  Milliron filed a motion for summary disposition, arguing that Stankevich did not have standing to seek custody of the child.  The trial court granted Milliron’s motion and Stankevich appealed.  The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s grant of the motion because Stankevich was not a “parent” as defined under the Child Custody Act.  In addition, it held that she lacked standing under the Equitable Parent Doctrine because her same-sex marriage fell outside the context of marriage, as defined by the Michigan Constitution and statutory law.  Stankevich then filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court held the application in abeyance pending the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell.  Once that opinion was issued, in September 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeal’s decision in this case and remanded it for reconsideration.
Here, in light of the Obergefell opinion, the Court of Appeals addressed a prior Michigan Supreme Court case, Van v. Zahorik, 460 Mich. 320 (1999), in which the Court declined to extend the Equitable Parent Doctrine outside the context of marriage.  The Court of Appeals concluded that, under Obergefell, the holding in Van “is no longer a barrier to the application of that doctrine in this case, and we are required to conclude that plaintiff is not barred from asserting the applicability of the equitable parent doctrine.”  The Court then reversed the order granting summary disposition to Milliron and remanded to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing regarding the validity of the couple’s Canadian marriage and the applicability of the Equitable Parent Doctrine.

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