Posted on December 21st, 2010 No comments
The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and Trial Court’s finding that the child support obligation continues after termination of parental rights unless otherwise ordered.
The facts of the case are fairly straightforward. Father’s parental rights were terminated. At termination, the Trial Court ordered that Respondent father’s child support obligation continue pursuant to the divorce judgment.
Father appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Father filed an application for leave with the Supreme Court, which agreed to take up the case.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, but employed different reasoning. The Supreme Court held, “the statutory structure indicates the Legislature’s determination that parental rights are distinct from parental obligations, and nothing in the statutory structure indicates that the loss of parental rights automatically results in the loss of parental obligations. Rather, a parental obligation continues “unless a court of competent jurisdiction modifies or terminates the obligation . . . .”” citing MCL 722.3(1).
The opinion, written by Justice Young, initially dispenses with Father’s constitutional claim that his right to due process was violated by continuing his support obligation after his parental rights were terminated. The Court found there is no auhtority “holding that a parent has either a state or federal constitutional entitlement to have his child support obligation suspended when his parental rights have been terminated.”
The opinion does a very nice job outlining the parental rights outlined by statute in MCL 722.1 through 722.6. Parental obligations are outlined in MCL 722.3, including the obligation to support the child. The Court found that because rights under the statute are distinguished from obligations, an order terminating parental rights does not similarly terminate parental responsibilities. The Court points out that MCL 712A.19b clearly states it only provides a mechanism for terminating parental rights. In other words, the terminated parent loses any entitlement to the “custody, control, services and earnings of the minor . . . .” MCL 722.2.
While this opinion leaves the ultimate rule that the duty to continue to pay child support continues after a parent’s parental rights are terminated, it provides us with a much clearer legal analysis.
The case does leave us with some unanswered questions. Does the trial court have the discretion to terminate child support when rights are terminated? Does the termination of parental rights give the state, where the child is a state ward, standing to seek modifications of child support? Where the child is in the custody of DHS, could DHS show cause a parent for non-payment or seek modification? Must the Court re-direct support payments to the state where both parents’ rights are terminated?
I am sure we will see the answers to these questions soon.
You can read or download the opinion here: In re Beck