A recently published decision from the Michigan Court of Appeals affirms that parents have a constitutional interest in raising their children as they see fit. The statutory rights of grandparents do not trump a parent’s constitutional rights.
In some families, conflicts over children arise between parents and grandparents. Around the turn of the century, the Michigan legislature codified grandparents’ rights in a statute that prevents grandparents from being completely cut-out of a child’s life.
Under the grandparenting statute, parents are presumed to be “fit parents”. A fit parent is defined by the Court of Appeals simply as one who, “adequately provides for his or her children.”
If both presumably fit parents, however, decide that their children should not have contact with grandparents, then the grandparents are cut-out of the children’s lives entirely. For grandparents to prevail in such a situation, a family court judge must find at least one parent unfit.
Last month, the Michigan Court of Appeals addressed this issue in Geering v King. A finding by the Kalamazoo County Family Court that both parents were unfit, and granting the paternal grandfather’s request for visitation with his grandchildren, was reversed by the Court of Appeals.
The family court found that both parents’ conduct rendered them unfit. In particular, the family court judge ruled that the parents did not properly communicate; were poor co-parents; meted out inconsistent discipline; and undermined each other to the four children.
This decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals as being “against the great weight of the evidence” presented in the family court. Writing for the appellate court, former Oakland County Circuit Judge Colleen O’Brien stated:
While we acknowledge that, like most, if not all, parents, Geering and King are not perfect, it is our view that the record before us simply does not support a conclusion that either parent failed to adequately care for his or her children. The circuit court’s analysis largely focused on the parents’ failure to resolve various parenting issues during the contentious proceedings that took place both before and after the parents’ divorce. Specifically, the circuit court pointed to the parents’ ”inconsistency in discipline, the inconsistency in communication, the inconsistency in co-parenting, and not fostering the relationship with the other parent.” However, as the circuit court expressly acknowledged, the parents’ relationship has significantly improved since they resolved the remaining custody and parenting-time issues while this motion was pending. Indeed, as the trial court recognized, the record reflects that there was “improvement between mom and dad,” that “they [were] both starting to mature and get established,” and “that the children are doing well academically and emotionally and . . . have witnessed their parents being respectful and pleasant for each other.”
The published thus binding case does not create new rights so much as it clarifies the provisions of the grandparenting statute. Legal experts agree that the case would have been decided differently if the parents disagreed on the question of allowing grandparenting time.
In this case, both parents -who have had a long history of custody-related conflict during and after their divorce- filed a joint affidavit opposing the grandfather’s visitation request. In the end, this made the difference according to the Court of Appeals’ analysis.
One of the more significant aspects of the case is the constitutional basis adopted by the Court of Appeals in finding for the parents. The panel held that fit parents have a constitutional right to make decisions about the care, custody and management of their minor children.
If you have grandparent visitation issues, contact our law firm for a free consultation to discuss your options.