Change Michigan Parental Rights Laws
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My stepfather has been in my life for 13 years and has been my parent during all of that while my biological father has not been. My last memory of my biological father includes him beating me. You see, I was six years old and I remember very vividly that we were on a job where he was putting kitchen tile in for someone. The customer’s had two huge St. Bernard’s - one had a purple collar and one had a red collar, the living room and kitchen were connected and the couch was against the wall facing a small TV with the kitchen to the right of the TV. Now, I was sitting on the middle cushion of the couch, cowering behind a decorative pillow. We were watching a movie that included aliens invading the Earth and destroying the human race. Now, this movie was very poorly made, so if I were to go back and watch it now that I’m 19 years old, it might actually be kind of humorous, but to a six a year old… not so much. In one of the scenes, a man is in a bathroom when an alien pops up in the window and vaporizes him. It scared me. When we went back to his house, we were eating ice cream in the back room and when I was done, he told me to go brush my teeth and get ready for bed. I got to the bathroom door and all of a sudden it was just like like tunnel vision where all I could see was the window on the back wall and all I could imagine was an alien popping up and killing me. So I went to my dad and told him that I was scared to go in the bathroom alone, he got mad at me and started yelling that I needed to go brush my teeth, I started crying, he spanked me and sent me to my room and told me to come down once I was ready to brush my teeth. I came back downstairs told him I was ready to brush my teeth , and his response was “After I spank you again”. This was the result. Sadly to say, I didn't brush my teeth that night. This man is an alcoholic, a drug addict, abusive, and neglectful. But guess which of these two men is legally considered my dad due to the current laws in place. The one who beat me. Now after this event took place, my biological dad lost his visitation rights. My mom then continued to try and have his parental rights terminated, but the way in which the law is currently worded, a loophole was always found and he was able to keep his rights. This is something that has had a serious impact on my life and needs to be changed. In Michigan, there are ten possible ways for a parent’s rights to be involuntarily terminated. The reason his rights were never terminated for abuse or neglect, which is what nine of possible ways have to do with, is because there wasn’t enough substantial evidence that he was abusive or neglectful and according to Rebecca Hunt, who is the children services supervisor here in Mason county, if the child are in a safe environment and typically with a family member, then the courts may not terminate parental rights in hopes that a parent will make the necessary changes. So my mom and her lawyer tried to take the tenth way. From childwelfare.gov, this portion of the law states “The child has a guardian, and both of the following have occurred:
» The parent has failed, without good cause, to provide regular and substantial support for the child for 2 years or more.
» The parent has failed to regularly visit, contact, or communicate with the child, without good cause, for 2 years or more.”
My biological father wasn’t in any form of contact with me, nor was he trying to be in contact with me and he was not paying his child support. Let me make it clear what his child support was. He was supposed to pay $25 a month. That is a week’s worth of coffee, a piece of clothing, or a paw patrol toy that my sister got last week. His total support cost was $300 a year. And he didn’t pay it. So you would think that the rights would be terminated, right? Well you’d be wrong. The state garnishes money from your wages or your taxes for child support. Now this is done because it is meant to aid the child and be beneficial towards the child, however this was something that was detrimental towards me, in more ways the one. I spoke with Mason County Probate and Family Court Judge Nellis, who received his law degree from Wayne State University, was a family attorney for 19 years and was elected judge in 2012. In his career, he has handled almost 5,000 family related cases and he summed up perfectly how not willingly paying child support emotionally effects the child. “When a parent doesn’t pay support, it is kind of like desertion, you have to talk about the impact on the child, while it’s just money, from the child’s point of view, it is like they are being deserted by the parent since they do not care enough to provide that support”. And speaking from experience, that is 100% true. When I was younger I didn’t understand or really even know much about child support, but as I got older, probably around the age of 13, I understood that he wasn’t paying $25 a month and it made me feel that I just wasn’t worth $25 a month and because of this, I had my name legally changed to remove his last name from my name. This man made me feel like I was worth less than $25 a month, for years and made it impossible for a man who actually cared about me and was a parent to me, to have any legal rights. That is not something that is in the best interest of the child, and because of the wording of this law, the courts failed me and my family. And this is something that any of us could face in our future. So with that being said, Here is my proposal. It is a relatively simple one but it could greatly change the way the law is understood. My proposal is that one word be added to the current law regarding child support, and that word is “willingly”. The law would then read:
“The parent has failed, without good cause, to willingly provide regular and substantial support for the child for 2 years or more”.
First, my biological father still having rights over me is STILL negatively impacting my life even though I am legally an adult. I will be attending U of M this fall and I will be applying for financial aid. Now, for U of M financial aid, I need to fill out a form, my mom needs to fill out a form and my non-custodial parent needs to fill out a form. You can get the last form waived, but you need written letters from multiple people and one of those people has to be a teacher, mentor, counselor, someone of that nature. But the problem is that I’ve never had an adult that I’ve told any of this to because I was ashamed of it for a long time and I didn’t want anyone to know. So him still having rights over me, has the potential to make it so I am unable to get financial aid from U of M.
Secondly, If the law were changed to say “willingly”, then his rights to me, and my two half siblings whom I’ve never met, would have been terminated years ago and the man who has been my father would have been able to adopt me and the man who has been the father to my siblings would be able to adopt them.
And emotionally, it would be nice to not have to explain for once that the person who is my parent, isn't legally my parent. This is a law that needs to be changed since the wording has negative impacts on the lives of children across the country.
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