In re ARJ (Opinion - Leave Granted)Annotate this Case
Petitioner-mother and respondent were married in 2003 and had one child, AJR, during their marriage. They divorced in 2009. The divorce judgment gave the parties joint legal custody of the child, gave physical custody to the mother, placed support obligations on respondent, and gave respondent reasonable visitation. Mother married petitioner-stepfather in 2010, and they lived together with AJR as a family. In May 2012, petitioners filed a petition to terminate respondent’s parental rights so that the stepfather could adopt AJR under MCL 710.51(6). Petitioners alleged that respondent had failed to provide support or comply with a support order and had failed to visit or contact AJR for more than two years. The trial court granted the petition and terminated respondent’s parental rights. Respondent appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that respondent’s parental rights had been improperly terminated given that respondent and the mother had joint legal custody of AJR and MCL 710.51(6) only allowed a court to terminate the rights of a parent who does not have legal custody. The panel held that the statute required the petitioning parent be the parent having sole legal custody. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. "Petitioner-mother has always been free to seek modification of the custody arrangement under MCL 722.27. If on remand petitioner-mother secures sole legal custody of the child, then petitioners may proceed with stepparent adoption under MCL 710.51(6)."