The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court decision to set aside the stepparent adoption of KJS due to the parties’ significant and positive fraud.
The facts of this case (In re KJS, Minor, No.330722) are simple.
KJS was born in the Republic of the Philippines. His parents never married. Petitioner-mother met respondent online. They were married in a religious ceremony. After the mother received a fiancé visa for herself and a green card for KJS, they came to the United States. The couple were legally married in the US in 2013.
The parents filed a petition for a stepparent adoption; court officials conducted an investigation and the adoption was approved on November 18, 2015. The parents were pleased, hopeful that the adoption would accelerate KJS’s American citizenship process.
The next day, the parties argued. Eventually, petitioner-mother sent three e-mails to the trial court that granted the adoption asking that the adoption be set aside. She stated that respondent step-father was abusive, wouldn’t go to marriage counseling and wanted full custody of KJS. The court treated the e-mails as a petition for a re-hearing and set a hearing for December 9, 2015.
In the meantime, respondent filed for divorce. He received an order granting him the home and full custody of KJS. At the December 9th hearing in the adoption matter, the respondent asked for more time because he wasn’t prepared for a full hearing. The court denied his request and proceeded with the hearing.
The parties testified describing a history of conflict and domestic abuse. Petitioner said that the respondent didn’t ask for a divorce until the adoption was finalized. When asked if they told the court officers who conducted the pre-adoption study of their volatile relationship, they said “no.”
The court sets aside the adoption
Following the hearing, the court set aside the adoption. The court stated that the purpose of a stepparent adoption was to “create a cohesive family unit for a child” and that a stable relationship was required for the court to approve an adoption. The court noted that the parties presented themselves as a loving couple and if the true nature of the relationship had been known, the adoption would not have been approved.
Respondent appeals the order vacating his stepparent adoption.
Respondent raised some procedural issues, which the Court of Appeals (COA) denied. The respondent also argued that the trial court was wrong when it concluded that the parties committed fraud in securing the adoption.
The COA disagreed upholding the lower court decision, finding:
1) Although good cause is required to hold a rehearing to vacate an adoption, there is no standard for the actual order to vacate. The statute (MCL 710.64 (A) simply states the judge may set aside the order of adoption.
2) Case law supports the use of fraud as grounds to vacate an adoption.
3) Because courts are reluctant to set aside an adoption, the fraud must be significant and positive.
The fraud is this case was significant, positive fraud.
The COA looked to the purpose of the stepparent adoption statute to determine if the fraud in this case was significant and positive. The statute was enacted to “allow the creation of a two-parent family where one did not exist before,” which is grounded on a marriage between the biological custodial parent and the stepparent.
The facts showed that the parents didn’t intend to remain married or create a two-parent family for KJS. Both parties agreed that the relationship was volatile. Respondent also challenged the petitioner’s motives seeking the adoption because the filing of the petition coincided with the removal of conditions on the petitioner’s green card. The evidence in this case shows that the parties didn’t intend to create a two-parent family for KJS, which constitutes fraud.
A best-interests finding is not necessary at rehearing.
In response to respondent’s argument that the court abused its discretion by setting aside the adoption without making best interests findings. The COA disagreed stating that Michigan case law allows a trial court to decide whether to make the best-interests findings in a rehearing.
Because of the above reasons, the COA upheld the trial court’s decision to set-aside the adoption.