Guardianship Case Highlights Need For Counsel, Justices Say

DETROIT (AP) — Three justices on the Michigan Supreme Court believe lawyers should be appointed to help people navigate complicated guardianship disputes.

The remarks came in an unusual case: A woman spent about five years trying to get two children back after their grandmother went to court in Delta County and was awarded guardianship.

“This guardianship should not have been entered in the first place. ... What transpired in this case is troubling,” Justice Megan Cavanagh said.

“Fit parents have the fundamental constitutional right to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of their children," Cavanagh said. "This right is an element of liberty protected by due process."

A 3-0 appeals court decision in favor of the mother will stand, the Supreme Court said Friday.

A grandmother in the Upper Peninsula had agreed to temporarily care for the kids until the mother could get settled hours away in the Lower Peninsula. But the grandmother was subsequently granted guardianship in 2015 by Judge Robert Goebel, according to a summary of the case.

The mother twice challenged it without a lawyer and lost. She was finally able to get an attorney to assist her in 2018.

Cavanagh urged the Legislature to consider making court-appointed lawyers available to parents in guardianship cases. Justices Elizabeth Welch and Elizabeth Clement joined her remarks.

“I believe the assistance of a court-appointed attorney in a contested guardianship case is necessary to safeguard parental rights and ensure that a guardianship is entered using only fundamentally fair procedures,” Cavanagh said.

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