Adoption Denied - Arbitrary and Capricious?

Case Discussed:

In re: C.L., Minor

MiLW No. 08-91969

Michigan Court of Appeals (MCA) - Unpublished Case

The Michigan Court of Appeals examined an adoption case wherein the adoption petition of a paternal grandmother was denied by the Superintendent of the Michigan Children's Institute (MCI). The child in question had been residing with foster parents for some time, and the grandmother had a mixed history of documented behavior as related to child-rearing.

The MCA did not focus on whether the superintendent of MCI made the right decision in denying the adoption petition, or whether the court would have found differently (i.e. for the grandmother). Rather, the MCA focused on whether the superintendent acted 'arbitrarily and capriciously' in making the decision to deny the grandmother's petition.

The MCA was tasked with examining the reasons given by the superintendent of MCI for withholding consent for the grandmother to adopt her grandchild. The superintendent have the following reasons for denial: that the grandmother's prior listing on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' (MDHHS) Child Abuse and Neglect Registry, her failure to take responsibility for her son's problems, the 'deep and sustained attachment to the foster parents', and the observed regression of the grandchild's behavior when visitation with the grandmother resumed.

What to take away from this case?

Most importantly, prospective adoptive parents should be aware that involvement of the adoptive child in the foster care system can add complications. The strength of the grandmother's petition in In re: C.L. was harmed in part because the superintendent of MCI could point to an alternate home and parents for the child in question. The grandmother's petition may have been successful but for the lengthy residence of the child in a foster home, where new emotional bonds developed with the foster parents.

Readers should also note that the MCA was not interested in re-trying of the entire adoption case. The decision of the superintendent would only be reexamined at the trial court level if the MCA found the superintendent's decision to be 'arbitrary and capricious'.

Arbitrary - based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system

Capricious - given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior

It is clear, based on the superintendent's stated rationale that the decision to deny the grandmother's petition was not random or whimsical. The superintendent of MCI had four reasons that collectively led them to deny the petition and those reasons didn't appear to the trial court or the MCA to be subject to random or unaccountable change.

While it's unclear exactly how much importance was given to the grandmother's own success at parenting, the superintendent specifically mentioned the criminal history of the grandmother's son (the child's father). The son's criminal history was arguably considered by the superintendent to be the partial responsibility of the grandmother who raised him! The grandmother's refusal to accept responsibility for the illegal acts of her son was listed as a reason for denying her petition.

Closing Thoughts

  • If you are contemplating an adoption - but don't have physical custody of the child - carefully review your suitability, but don't linger excessively! If the child you are seeking to adopt has developed a parent-child relationship with their foster parent, you may be too late.

  • Past or present listing on the the MDHHS Child Abuse and Neglect Registry may affect the outcome of your petition.

  • The criminal history of you, your children or others previously in your care may impact the outcome of your petition.

  • Willingness to acknowledge past parenting mistakes or weaknesses may impact the outcome of your petition.

Full opinion available here, courtesy of Justia.com

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