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A Better Partnership
September 25, 2014

COA clarifies the significance of medical and anticipatory neglect under Michigan’s Probate Code

A parent’s medical neglect is not the same as a parent’s failure to prevent physical harm under Michigan’s Probate Code, MCL 712A.19b(3)(B)(ii),  said the Court of Appeals in In re LaFrance, Nos. 319219 & 319222.  The Court also clarified that anticipatory neglect, as a basis for termination of parental rights, does not extend to other children in the home who have not been abused by the parent in question.
 
A mother and father’s parental rights were terminated when their youngest child suffered injuries resulting from dehydration under the father’s supervision.  The mother also had a substance abuse problem while pregnant with the youngest child.  Though there was no evidence of abuse or neglect of the infant’s three older siblings, the Court nevertheless terminated the parents’ rights to all four children.
 
MCL 712A.19b(3)(B)(ii) states that termination is warranted if there is evidence that “a child or a sibling of a child has suffered physical injury” and “the parent had the opportunity to prevent the physical injury . . . [and] failed to do so . . . .”  The Court of Appeals distinguished between the trial court’s characterization of medical neglect and the language of the statute.  The physical injury must have been caused by a parent’s act and not merely contributed to by a non-intentional omission such as medical negligence.  Thus, the Court of Appeals held that the statute is not grounds for parental rights termination when medical neglect is involved.
 
The Court found that three other bases for termination applied to the youngest child: (1) that conditions will not be rectified; (2) that the parent fails to provide for the child and there is no reasonable expectation that the parent will provide in the future; and (3) that there is a reasonable likelihood, based on the parents’ conduct, that the child will be harmed if he or she is returned to the home.  MCL 712A.19b(3)(c)(i), (3)(g), (3)(j).  These same bases, however, were not applicable to the older children through the doctrine of anticipatory neglect.  The Court reasoned that, by relying on anticipatory neglect in this case, the trial court took the injuries that the youngest suffered as probative evidence that the parents also abused the other three children.  Because no evidence was offered to prove that the parents had abused or neglected the older three children, the Court of Appeals reversed the termination of parental rights.

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