Parental rights and responsibilities are bestowed in several ways under Michigan law. Adoption, guardianship, and custody each have very important differences and legal battles may arise when parties with different rights disagree on issues that affect the same child(ren). Typically, biological parents and specifically the parent with legal custody has the highest decision-making authority. However, if the child has been adopted or if a guardian has been appointed, the adoptive parent(s) or guardian will trump biological parents in a disagreement. There is a caveat to this hierarchy. When parties disagree, the court must determine that any decision is in the best interest of the child.
Adoption is the process by which the parental rights of biological parents are terminated or surrendered and the adoptive parents take on all of the prescribed rights of the biological parents. Any custody and parenting time granted to the biological parents prior to the adoption is extinguished. For all intents and purposes adopted children are viewed as actually having been born to their adoptive parents, including having rights to inheritance.
Guardians, on the other hand, share parental responsibilities with biological parents. The appointment of a guardian does not automatically terminate the parental rights of biological parents, in fact, the termination of parental rights must be sought in a completely different cause of action. After a guardian is appointed, biological parents retain rights to visitation with their children, child support obligations, and access to information related to the child’s health and education.
It is extremely important that parents formalize who will care for their children in an estate plan, especially when parents designate someone who is not a blood relative to take on caregiving responsibilities, such as a “godparent”. If you are a parent or caregiver and have questions related to assuming any of the roles discussed above, please call Great Lakes Legal Group to discuss your options.