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Sex Offender Status Now Terminates Parental Rights

Clarkston Legal May 19, 2012

Murder, felonious assault resulting in serious injury to a child, voluntary manslaughter; these are convictions that cause parents to lose their parental rights while doing time in the penitentiary. Now add to that list: registration on the Sex Offender Registry.

As of May 1, the applicable statute now states that the Department of Human Services is not required to take “reasonable efforts” to unify parent with child if the parent is required to register as a sex offender under what is known as SORA.

Of course, some controversy has surrounded this legislation. On the one hand, critics observe that family court judges can now essentially terminate parental rights for no reason other than the SORA requirement. On the other hand, those same family court judges apparently have the discretion to order the DHS to make “reasonable efforts” to reunify parent and child, same as always. Apparently, in the passage of this law, there was significant consideration given to obtaining federal grant money available if this was the law in Michigan.

This leads to some interesting implications for us criminal defense attorneys. For example, Ionia County Family Court Judge David Hoort asks:

In criminal cases does this then require advising a defendant that his/her plea to an offense resulting in registration under the SORA could result in a termination of his/her parental rights? Even if unrelated to the existing charge?

That’s a good question. No surprise that SORA will continue delivering harsh consequences for those caught-up in its net.