Michigan Supreme Court upholds Judge Marietti's decision

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By Diana L. Coleman
Legal News

The Michigan Supreme Court has upheld the original trial court decision of the Honorable William C. Marietti, Chief Judge, Muskegon County Circuit Court. The court handed down the decision that the grandmother of several Muskegon county children should not be favored as their guardian because she is a relative.

The unanimous supreme-court ruling reversed a Michigan Court of Appeals decision and restored the original ruling by Judge Marietti that the children’s best interest should be the sole guiding factor in deciding the guardianship, and no preference should be given to relatives.

The issue of custody, involving the future of the four Muskegon children of a father and mother whose parental rights were terminated, was the question before the trial court. The children’s grandmother Lori Scribner, who lives in Florida, is the biological grandmother of three of the children and petitioned the court to be their guardian.

The children have been living in foster care for five years and the foster parents want to adopt all four children — the oldest currently being twelve years old.

The Honorable William C. Marietti, in his trial court decision, denied Scribner’s petition for guardianship and assigned the children to the Michigan Children’s Institute. The Michigan Children’s Institute’s purpose is to make adoption decisions for children whose parents have lost their parental rights.

Scribner appealed the trial court decision, and in June 2013, the Court of Appeals reversal of Marietti’s decision held that the state law gives preference to relatives — and therefore Scribner should be made the children’s guardian.

The Michigan Department of Human Services appealed that decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.  On April 22, in a 7-0 decision, the high court ruled that Judge Marietti was correct.  Michigan law gives preference to relatives in the initial placement stage, before parental rights are terminated. A different  Michigan law that makes the children’s best interests the sole factor when deciding guardianship was included in the Supreme Court decision.

The Supreme Court did, however, return the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals on another issue.

The issue to be heard is:

Whether the Michigan Children’s Institute was right to reject Scribner’s petition to adopt the children? Scribner had also appealed that decision, but the court of appeals did not consider the issue because it had ruled that Marietti should not have assigned the children to the Michigan Children’s Institute in the first place.

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