The Michigan Supreme Court denied an appeal by a Michigan couple who was trying to adopt their niece’s baby.
The Court of Appeals had reversed the trial court’s decision to stay putative father Nicholas Mattson’s paternity action (subscribers can read Michigan Lawyers Weekly‘s story here), and to deny him custody of the child born to him and his former girlfriend. Where the adoption code meets the paternity act, adoptions have historically taken priority.
The tension between the state’s Adoption Code MCL 710.21 and Paternity Act MCL 722.711 sometimes leaves babies’ natural fathers out of adoption proceedings. The result can be disruptive if the child is later returned to the father.
It’s the conflict between the code and the act that made Birmingham attorney John F. Mills, who represented the would-be adoptive parents, hope that the Michigan Supreme Court would take up the issue.
“I’m honestly surprised,” Mills said this morning. “This appeal included statutory construction questions, and a conflict between two bodies of law, not to mention the substantive errors the Court of Appeals glossed over.”
But in this case, the Court of Appeals opined that that the father had shown good cause for resolving the paternity action before the adoption. He had, according to the opinion, tried to offer the birth mother financial support during her pregnancy. He had taken parenting classes and had opened a savings account for the baby.
Now, Mills said, “Anything that smells like good cause, the adoption priority is turned on its head.”
Mills said that there has been a trend among judges to be more sympathetic with some birth fathers.
“This does liberalize the way putative fathers are treated by the court,” Mills said.
The child is now two years old, and has been living with the birth mother’s aunt and uncle since birth.