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Navigating Parental Rights in Alleged Child Abuse During Pregnancy Cases

Posted by Christina M. Lejkowski | Mar 10, 2022 | 0 Comments

Allegations of child abuse are very serious.  There are many laws which address child abuse and the repercussions when a parent who is found to have abused their child.  In serious cases of child abuse with aggravated circumstances, the court can terminate parental rights.  Recently, the issue of whether a mother can lose her parental rights for the way she behaved during pregnancy was address by the Court of Appeals.

Court finds a Fetus is not a Child for purposes of Child Abuse

The Court of Appeals of Michigan published a case at the end of February 2022 in which it found that a fetus is not a child within the meaning of the statutes relating to child abuse.  The Court heard a case in which a mother had used drugs during her pregnancy.  Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) filed a petition six days after the child's birth seeking to terminate the mother's parental rights rather than attempt to reunify the child with the mother.  Even though the mother had voluntarily terminated her parental rights to twins in the past and had used drugs during her pregnancy of the newborn child, the Court concluded that DHHS should not have denied services to the mother for the newborn.

Aggravating Circumstances

The Court came to this conclusion partially because no evidence was presented at the hearing to justify a conclusion that aggravating circumstances had been established.  Aggravating circumstances include battering, torture, or other severe physical abuse.  Aggravating circumstances exist when a parent has abused a child and the abuse included one or more of the following: (1) abandonment of a young child, (2) criminal sexual conduct involving penetration, attempted penetration, or assault with intent to penetrate, (3) battering, torture, or other severe physical abuse, (4) loss or serious impairment of an organ or limb, (5) life threatening injury, or (6) murder or attempted murder.  These circumstances represent violent or abusive conduct that causes long-lasting harm.  The Court of Appeals in this case concluded that the testimony and evidence presented did not show that the child sustained any consequences of the mother's prenatal drug use.  Also, the Court concluded that a fetus is not a child according to criminal or juvenile abuse laws.

Conclusion

Parental rights can only be terminated in certain circumstances.  The goal of DHHS involvement is to reunify a family and to provide services to a parent and child to help them take meaningful steps to accomplish reunification unless aggravated circumstances are proven to exist.  A mother's behavior during pregnancy without evidence of severe abuse after the child is born, does not justify terminating her parental rights without attempts to reunify the mother with her child.

Call or click today for a consultation about parental rights, with a family law attorney at Great Lakes Family Probate & Estates at 1-888-554-5373, [email protected]

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