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A Better Partnership
October 23, 2014

COA holds that Sanders decision, abolishing one-parent rule for termination of parental rights, has limited retroactive effect

In In re S. Kanjia, No. 320055, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that its decision in In re Sanders, No. 146680, abolishing the one-parent doctrine in termination of parental rights cases, has limited retroactive effect and will be applied to cases that were pending on appeal at the time Sanders was decided in June 2014. The one-parent doctrine formerly provided that a trial court only needed to adjudicate one parent unfit in order to establish jurisdiction over the child, and then it could issue orders regarding the child that affected both parents. In Sanders, the Court of Appeals held that this doctrine violated the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause because it interfered with the constitutionally protected parent-child relationship without a finding that the parent was unfit.
 
Here, the child’s mother pled no contest to allegations that she had neglected the child. The court then assumed jurisdiction over the child and eventually terminated the father’s parental rights, even though he was never adjudicated an unfit parent. First, the court held that a Sanders challenge first raised on direct appeal of a termination of parental rights does not constitute an impermissible collateral attack on the court’s jurisdiction, because a parent who has not been adjudicated unfit cannot effectively challenge the court’s power until that time. Second, the court held that Sanders applied to the father’s case because his appeal was pending at the time it was decided, and held that Sanders had limited retroactive effect. However, the court refused to grant relief because the father failed to preserve the issue of the validity of the one-parent doctrine for appeal by raising it in the trial court.
 
The court also found that the father’s trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective because counsel had no contact with the father until ten months after appointment. However, the father could not establish that counsel’s lack of contact prejudiced him because he consistently failed to participate in services and demonstrated a complete lack of parenting skills. The court therefore refused to grant relief. 

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