“In Troxel v Granville, 530 US 57, 120 S.Ct. 2054 (2000), the United States Supreme Court declared that parents have "perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court," i.e. the right to determine the care, custody, and control (including the associations) of their children. 530 US at 65.
“Children share in this due process liberty interest with their parents. In In re Clausen, 442 Mich 648, 502 NW2d 649 (1993), this Court specifically recognized the "mutual due process liberty interest" between natural parents and child. [Citing In re Clausen]
“The mutual rights of the parent and child come into conflict only when there is a showing of parental unfitness. As we have held in a series of cases, the natural parent's right to custody is not to be disturbed absent a showing of unfitness.”
Representing a Father in a Child Abuse and Neglect Case: The Importance of Establishing Paternity
Fathers are important in the lives of children. As you all know, I’ve written extensively on this topic for the past ten or more years. Many young lawyers fresh out of law school frequently handle assignments for child abuse and neglect cases. These cases are a good way to get experience and can be “bread and butter” for young lawyers building their practices. But the precious lives of children and the constitutional rights or their parents and the responsibilities of their parents are in the hands of often inexperienced lawyers. Establishing paternity within the child protective is essential for many reasons, not the least of which is to protect his parental rights and to make him available for placement of the child.
Identifying the Father: It is important that all parents involved in a child’s life are included in the child protective proceedings as soon as possible. Early identification and involvement of a noncustodial legal father who is actively involved in a child’s life may allow him to serve as a safe and permanent placement for a child. On the other hand, an absent and uninvolved legal father should be located, made a respondent to the petition, and, if appropriate, have his parental rights terminated. Only by establishing paternity within the case may the biological father protect his parental rights and be permitted to participate in the proceedings.