Posted on January 15th, 2010 No comments
When you have a putative father attempting to file for paternity during the pendency of an adoption, which should come first? This issue was addressed by the Court of Appeals in In re MKK.
The putative father filed a paternity action seeking an order of filiation at or around the same time the child’s maternal aunt and uncle filed a petition to adopt the child. The trial court denied putative father’s motion to stay the adoption proceedings and stayed the paternity action pending the conclusion of the adoption proceedings.
Paternity tests revealed a 99.99% probability he was the natural father. Ultimately, the trial court concluded that it was not in the child’s best interests to grant custody to putative father under MCL 710.39(1). The trial court also concluded that placement with the uncle and aunt was not in the child’s best interests and denied the adoption petition in light of the fact that the parents live nearby in a small community. Both parties appealed.
Naturally, father wanted the paternity action heard first because once an order of filiation was entered and he is considered a parent, termination of his parental rights can generally only be accomplished in cases of neglect or abuse under MCL 712A.19b. See In re LE, 278 Mich App 1, 19, 22; 747 NW2d 883 (2008). It is far easier to terminate parental rights of a putative father under MCL 710.39 in the Adoption code.
Putative father argued that he was denied both procedural and substantive due process by his application of the Adoption Code and decision to stay his paternity action until the completion of the adoption. The Court of Appeals framed its analysis in terms of statutory construction rather than constitutional considerations. The Court acknowledged that adoption proceedings must be completed as quickly as possible and, in general, be given priority on the court’s docket. MCL 710.21a(c) and (d); MCL 710.25(1). However, the Court also noted that under MCL 710.25(2) “an adjournment or continuance of a proceeding under this chapter shall not be granted without a showing of good cause.” Thus, there may be circumstances in which a putative father may be able to present good cause to delay the adoption proceedings. The court wrote, “in cases such as this, where there is no doubt that respondent is the biological father, he has filed a paternity action without unreasonable delay, and there is no direct evidence that he filed the action simply to thwart the adoption proceedings, there is good cause for the court to stay the adoption proceedings and determine whether the putative father is the legal father, with all the attendant rights and responsibilities of that status. Upon a motion to stay adoption proceedings, the trial court must make a good cause determination based on the particular circumstances of the case.”
The Court was very careful to state that they were not creating a bright line test that would lead to a “‘race to the courthouse,’ where a paternity takes precedence over an adoption proceeding merely because the paternity action was filed first.” This gives the court some discretion in the good cause finding.
The Court also reasoned that the general presumption that it is in the child’s best interests to be in the custody of their natural parent or parents allows the court to give priority to a paternity action over an adoption.
You can view or download the opinion here: In re MKK