New Law Makes Stepparent Adoptions Easier

The stepparent adoption process just got simpler in cases of joint custody arrangements, now that Public Act 143 of 2016 has been signed into law.

Stepparents in Michigan have sometimes had a difficult time adopting their stepchildren, which requires a termination of the other biological parent’s rights, because of the Michigan Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in In re AJR (Docket No. 147522).

In that case, the Supreme Court held that a court could only terminate a biological parent’s rights under the Adoption Code if the parent with physical custody had sole legal custody. This meant that in cases where a biological parent remarried and had joint legal custody, which is often the situation, that biological parent had to first ask the court to change the custody arrangement to sole legal, before an adoption petition could be filed.

Those who supported PA 143 (Senate Bill 458) claimed that, after In re AJR was decided, stepparent adoptions virtually ended because the process was too burdensome, time-consuming and expensive.

PA 143 now provides that, if a parent with court-ordered physical custody remarries and that parent’s new spouse (stepparent) petitions to adopt the child, the court may, upon notice and hearing, terminate the rights of the other biological parent under §51(6)(a) and (b) of the Adoption Code.

Signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on June 6, PA 143 takes effect 90 days after its enactment.

PA 143 also includes a new provision about compliance with child-support orders. The law says a child-support order that indicates support is $0 or that support is reserved must be treated the same as if no support order was entered at all. This change was necessary because there are circumstances, such as unemployment or illness, when a parent is unable to pay support.