More and more grandparents are faced with raising their grandchildren. What are the rights of grandparents who are going it alone, without the emotional or financial support of the biological parents? The following are some options:
If a parent leaves a child in the home of a grandparent for an extended period of time, without any legal authority (ex power of attorney), then a grandparent can petition the Court for a guardianship to assume legal authority over the child. The guardianship can be temporary, limited or full. A temporary guardianship is for a short duration and usually for emergency purposes before a court hearing can be held. A limited guardianship is based on conditions that a parent must meet or a designated reason or time frame. When the conditions are met, the guardianship is terminated. If the conditions are not met, the Court may terminate the rights of the parent. A full guardianship is without conditions and may only be terminated if the parent can establish it is in the best interests of the child to be returned to the parents. A guardianship also allows for a grandparent to pursue child support.
If a grandparent has secured a full or limited guardianship, they can pursue custody. Custody provides a more permanent role for the grandparent in the life of the child. It insures that the grandparent can still have legal authority and continued contact with the child. It also provides a mechanism to go back to Court if problems exist relating to the parent's conduct and behavior. For a grandparent to be successful in a custody battle, he/she must be able to show by clear and convincing evidence it is in the child's best interest for custody to go with the grandparent. In the State of Michigan, the parents have a strong parental presumption. A grandparent may also intervene in an ongoing child custody dispute (neglect, divorce, paternity or custody). The filing of a custody action stays a guardianship proceeding.
3. Grandparent Visitation
This law has been virtually gutted in Michigan. However, there are still some avenues. If there is a pending child custody dispute a grandparent can file a motion and ask for visitation. If both parents of the child sign an affidavit stating that they do not want the grandparent to have visitation, the grandparent is done. If either one of the parents is fit, then the grandparent must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the failure to allow grandparenting visitation creates physical, emotional or mental harm to the child. If the grandparent can overcome that hurdle, the grandparent must then show by a preponderance of the evidence it is in the best interests of the child to have visitation with the grandparent.
4. Neglect actions
If a parent has had a petition filed for neglect/abuse of a child, a grandparent can contact DHS and ask for placement of the child while the matter is pending. If the case proceeds to termination, the grandparents can seek to adopt the child and gain consent of the Court or the Michigan Children's Institute with the State of Michigan.
Grandparent's rights still exist in the State of Michigan, but an educated and experience attorney needs to be involved to navigate the various courts and agencies.