The stories all begin the same. The client has been the caregiver of the minor grandchild for an extended period, usually as a result of the child’s biological parents being absent (be it jail, drug use, mental illness, or simple neglect). For weeks, months, and in some instances, even years, the grandparent has raised the grandchild, providing the only love, support, and care this child has ever known. The grandparent, either by pure luck, or the unfortunate compassion of doctors and daycare providers, is able to provide the child with medical services despite having no legal authority to do so. The grandparent and child go about their lives, developing a sense of normalcy and comfort.
The stories all take the same tragic twist, the child’s biological parent unexpectedly reemerge from the shadows to claim the child. Frequently the grandparent willing allows the child to visit the parent in an attempt to help the child and parent begin to develop a line of communication that might not have otherwise existed. The parent frequently seizes the opportunity to reclaim the child and will not allow the grandparent to visit or take the child back to the only home they may have ever known.
At this point that the grandparents are seated at the conference table with me, desperate for an answer on what they can do. They are worried about the child’s well-being, stability, health and education. A parent who had not previously lifted a finger for their own child now has their child back without any input from the grandparent. The grandparent is often concerned about continued illicit or illegal activities which may threaten the safety of the child, having no ability to provide the necessary care the child has come accustomed to in the grandparent’s care. I often have to give them the heartbreaking news that the best chances to obtain guardianship expired the second the child was no longer in their exclusive custody or care.
It was the doctor’s kindness in allowing the grandparent to schedule well visits for the child, or the daycare provides compassion in allowing Grandma to arrange for daycare, without the grandparent possessing the legal authority of being a guardian, that contributed to this predicament. Had those physicians and care providers refused accommodations for the grandparent, the grandparent likely would have turned to an attorney like myself, to take steps to obtain the property authority. But why is now too late?
In Michigan for example, grandparent rights are extremely limited, as the rights of the parent in most instances, trumps all. The right for a grandparent to seek guardianship are blocked by the parental rights possessed by mom and dad. During the time that mom or dad were absent, and grandma or grandpa were the sole providers for the child, there was a legal avenue to obtain at least temporary guardianship to provide legal authority for grandma or grandpa to provide for the needs of the child. That legal avenue closed when the children returned to the parent’s custody. What lies ahead is a much longer road of establishing that the parent is unfit and that parental rights should be invaded or terminated. This is a mountain that can take years to climb. While I have helped clients navigate such a complicated legal path, much of our hard work and evidence gathering could have been avoided, had they only reached out to an attorney earlier.
Moral of the story, and my reason for sharing, is to encourage those who may be caring for a child not their own, be it grandparents, aunts, uncles or even friends who have taken on the children of a friend or neighbor, to reach out to an experienced attorney, like those found at Kelly & Kelly P.C. to discuss their options. It’s amazing how a brief consultation could have changed these sad stories, into ones of security, support, love, and a successful guardianship petitions.