Parent Jailed For Refusing to Obey Unconstitutional Visitation Order

The ACLU of Michigan and the Michigan Poverty Law Program (MPLP) are seeking the release of a father who has been unjustly jailed for not complying with a grandparent visitation order.  The order was based on a Michigan law that has since been struck down as unconstitutional.

“Holding Gregory White in jail for nearly two months based on an unconstitutional visitation order is clearly unjust,” said Peter Armstrong, the ACLU cooperating attorney representing Mr. White.  “The Supreme Court has been very clear that parents, not the state, are presumptively entitled to make decisions about the best interests of their children.”

In 2000, following the death of White’s wife, the wife’s parents, over White’s objections, obtained a court order granting them liberal visitation privileges.  White followed the order until he moved to Colorado in October, 2001 with his four-year old twins.  After the move he remarried and his new wife has since adopted the children as a second parent.

The grandparents went to court seeking to enforce the visitation order and when Mr. White returned to Michigan in March for a court date, a Berrien County Trial Court judge held him in contempt for failing to comply with the visitation order.

According to the ACLU and MPLP, the visitation order is void and unenforceable because the Michigan Court of Appeals struck down the Michigan grandparent visitation law in January as violative of the rights of parents.  Specifically, the Court of Appeals, relying on U.S. Supreme Court precedent, held that “so long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children, there will normally be no reason for the State to inject itself into the realm of the family.”  DeRose v DeRose.

“A judge does not have the ability to hold a person in contempt indefinitely for failure to obey an unconstitutional order,” said Lorray Brown, MPLP managing attorney.  “Mr. White should be released from jail as soon as possible and reunited with his family.”

A hearing is scheduled in the case tomorrow, Wednesday, May 29 at 8:30 a.m., in Judge Thomas Nelson’s courtroom where the ACLU and MPLP will ask the court to release the father, Gregory White, The address of the courthouse is 811 Port St. in St. Joseph.