Terminating the Rights of Parents Without a Finding of Unfitness

June 02, 2014

In 2013 the ACLU of Michigan filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Michigan Supreme Court on behalf of Lance Laird, who was denied custody of his children even though there was no adjudication establishing that he was an unfit parent. Mr. Laird was separated from the mother of his young children, who pleaded no contest to neglect and abuse.

Although Mr. Laird was not found to have done anything wrong, the court ordered that he attend parenting classes and counseling and submit to drug testing order to obtain custody of his children.

The trial court’s ruling was based on the “one-parent doctrine,” which provided that once the court assumed jurisdiction over a child based on the wrongdoing of one parent, it had authority to deprive the other parent of his or her rights as well, even if the parents were separated and only one parent was accused of wrongdoing.

Joining with a coalition of family advocacy organizations, the ACLU brief argued that it violates due process for the state to take away a parent’s right to care for his or her children without a formal adjudication that the parent is unfit.

In June 2014 the Michigan Supreme Court agreed and declared that the one-parent doctrine was unconstitutional.

(In re Sanders; Cooperating Attorney Amy Sankaran; Beth Kerwin and Brock Swartzle of Honigman.)