Divorce Court ...

Family matters often prove sticky for courts

By Maria E. Matyjaszek

We have all wished that we could magically make our annoying brothers and sisters disappear at one point or another, especially during the “I’m not touching you…” game.  With the proper set of circumstances, this can happen (at least in the legal sense), as the Michigan Court of Appeals opined that terminating parental rights legally terminates the sibling relationship as well.

In the case Wilson v. King, 298 Mich App 378 (2012), Marquita Wilson had her rights to her three children terminated in February 2008, and they were adopted by Diane King. Less than a year later, in September 2008, Wilson had another child, Mac, and for a period of time, King’s adopted children visited with their half-sibling Mac. However, this eventually came to an end.  Wilson wanted the visitation to continue, and filed a lawsuit requesting that a sibling visitation schedule be put in place. The trial court dismissed her action because Michigan law does not provide for such a case to be filed.

Wilson appealed, and interestingly enough, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling, but for a different reason. While the trial court dismissed the case as having no basis in law, the Court of Appeals relied on the “effect of adoption” statute, MCL 710.60.  Specifically, the statute states: “The person or persons adopting the adoptee then become the parent or parents of the adoptee under the law as though the adopted person had been born to the adopting parents and are liable for all the duties and entitled to all the rights of parents.”

In the eyes of the law, the “natural” or biological family relationships are terminated and the adoptive family takes the place of the natural one.  Because the three adopted children are now viewed as the biological children of King, Wilson’s child is not any relation to them.  Based on this thinking, the Court of Appeals stated that the “adoption of the three older children legally severed their sibling relationship with Mac. Consequently, even if a cause of action to obtain sibling visitation exists, [Wilson’s] complaint is deficient because the children seeking visitation are not Mac’s siblings.”

The Court of Appeals was quick to note that it was not making any determination as to the validity of a sibling visitation claim; however, I highly doubt that this is the last we will hear of these types of cases.  How is it fair and equitable for the court to punish the children for the actions of their parents?  When considering custody and parenting time, judges will often keep the children on the same schedule as their half-siblings or step-siblings so that the bond between the siblings is fostered. We also look at the child’s preference if he or she is considered to be of sufficient age.

Because there does not yet exist a proper cause of action for sibling visitation, the best interest factors are not applicable, but I have to wonder if this logic causes more harm than good. The court is denying visitation between children who know, without a doubt, that they really are related, regardless of what the law says.

While brothers and sisters can be obnoxious at times, most of us agree that we are better with them than without. Our siblings are a part of our history, our family makeup, and a link to our past. It doesn’t seem right for a court to determine, based on the actions of the parents, whether or not they are a part of our future.

(The author is a family law attorney whose blog site is:  http://legalbling.blogspot.com.  She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.)

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »