In Michigan, Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) cases are filed in the Family Division trial courts and should be handled by expert CPS attorneys. Cronkright Law attorneys have extensive training and experience in this area of law that criminal defense attorneys typically lack. Our attorneys have been highly successful at avoiding termination for their clients, even in very difficult circumstances. We are parent advocates and are highly motivated to keep families together and help them succeed.
Why do Parents Lose their Parental Rights?
There are a number of reasons why parents lose their parental rights. Some actually go to court and voluntarily give up their rights. Some parents do this to make adoption to a step parent possible. Some do it as part of a settlement in court. The majority of parents who lose their rights have lost a court battle. Sometimes, the reason for losing a court battle is because the parent needed a better attorney. Often times it is because the parent failed to recognize the manner in which the deck was stacked against them while services were being offered.
Child protective proceedings are full of pitfalls for the unwary parent and the unwary attorney. Parental rights are terminated after a court has obtained jurisdiction over a minor. In all cases, the attorney and the parent need to be preparing for the prospect of having a contested, adversarial hearing regarding termination. There are some cases when this happens very quickly. Sometimes the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) even seeks at original disposition. In these cases, if the court gains jurisdiction over the child either by trial or by parental plea, the very next event is a hearing on the subject of termination. Some courts have proceeded immediately to that hearing after the original trial. Commonly, courts will set the termination hearing for a month or more after the trial.
If this seems a little complicated, there is a reason for that. It is. Many attorneys have wandered into Child Protective Proceedings hearings only to discover they had no idea what they were doing. Here are some general suggestions for parents facing the prospect of termination of parental rights:
- Understand that the passage of time increases your risk. If a court has jurisdiction over your kids, the clock is ticking. The court is charged with the obligation to fix the problem that brought your family to court. If the problem can’t be fixed in a reasonable amount of time, the government has an argument in favor of termination.
- Everything you do needs to be designed to help you win. Yes, everything. You and your attorney need to carefully plan for your success. Every parenting time, every service you participate in, every contact that you have with the court, the guardian ad litem, a DHHS worker, a CPS worker or a service provider needs to be thought out, planned for and flawlessly conducted. Everything you do needs to help build your defense against termination of your parental rights.
- Be careful what information you share. Our clients are generally encouraged to have us review every document that they sign in advance, to not submit to interviews without us being present, and to not share information that will be used against them later on. Your attorney should be “hands on” in regard to the information you share with CPS.
How do I Avoid Termination?
Many parents don’t avoid termination because they don’t work well with DHHS and other agencies once the court has jurisdiction. The litigation over jurisdiction is often so adversarial that parents can’t make the posture adjustment that is necessary if the court gains jurisdiction. Once the court is in control of your kids, a service plan or parent agency treatment plan is implemented. At that point, parents need to participate in services. At future court hearings, a parent’s compliance with services and the benefit to the parent of those services will be important. It is often the case that a DHHS worker will testify that the parent complied with services but did not benefit. Successful attorneys will know how to guide their clients through this process to avoid that trap. Here are some general tips for parents going through court ordered services:
- Always be on time. The definition of “on time” means at least 10 minutes early.
- Leave the attitude behind. No matter what the attitude of the service provider is, your attitude should be pleasant, compliant and deferential. At this point, it does not matter if you like these people. This is about succeeding and getting your kids back.
- Come prepared to participate. If it is a class, pay attention, do your homework and take notes. Be prepared for your attorney to ask you what you learned from this or how you benefitted.
- Keep good notes. It is not a bad idea to keep a diary or log. Be ready to tell the judge what you did, what you learned and how you benefitted. So, if the plan calls for you to find suitable housing or a job, document every effort. Significant effort works better than excuses.
- Make sure your parenting time goes well. You want to be able to demonstrate that you and your child are bonded, and that you know how to parent appropriately. Keep good notes in your diary about how your parenting time went.
- Stay in touch with your attorney. Dispositional Review Hearings often occur on 90 day cycles. If you are having a problem, your attorney should not hear about if for the first time just before a hearing.
Our Approach to TPR
At Cronkright Law, our attorneys have learned that success comes with careful planning and careful implementation of the reunification plan. We will help you do both. We have helped parents re-unify with their children in the most difficult circumstances, including:
- When parents were (falsely) accused of sexual assault
- When parents were accused of Shaken Baby Syndrome
- When parents were addicted to Methamphetamines or other drugs
If you are facing what seems like insurmountable barriers to reunification, you probably need the intense level of legal intervention that we provide. If you want to confer with one of our family reunification attorneys, please give us a call. You can also provide us with a brief description of your legal issues by contacting us.