In a case for publication, In Re Beck, decided March 4, 2010, the Michigan court of appeals held that the termination of parental rights arising out of a neglect or abuse case does not end a parent's obligation to pay child support.
The father whose parental rights were terminated argued that the trial court violated his due process rights by providing in the termination order that his “[c]hild support and other support for the children shall continue.” He did not appeal the termination order itself.
The court of appeals disagreed, stating that the essence of a procedural due process claim is fundamental fairness and that the propriety of such a support order presented a legal question of statutory authority. Because the father had had notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard before an impartial decision-maker, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision.
The father also raised a claim that his rights to substantive due process were violated. However, because he failed to show that the action was so constitutionally arbitrary as to shock the conscience, the court of appeals rejected this claim.
The court's decision turned on the definitions of the words "rights" and "responsibilities" in the statute, giving the words their plain and ordinary meanings, and enforcing the statute as written. The court refused to read into the statute language that wasn't there. The court stated that a "right" is "a power, privilege, or immunity secured to a person by law" and a "responsibility" is a liability. That said, the COA stated that rights and responsibilities are distinct. The responsibility to pay child support and the retention or exercise of parental rights are not interdependent. Rather, unless there is an adoption (and that was not the case here), an order terminating parental rights does not terminate the parent's obligation to support the child. Thus, in this case, the order terminating the respondent's parental rights but requiring him to continue to pay child support was proper because a child has the right to receive financial support from his parents and a court may enforce that right by ordering parents to pay child support. That right cannot be bargained away by the parents.
The duty belongs to both parents, thus a child’s parents are jointly and severally obligated to support him unless a court of competent jurisdiction modifies or terminates the obligation or the minor is emancipated by operation of law.
The Michigan Supreme Court Opinion affirming the Court of Appeal is discussed here.