Parental Rights and Responsibilities: Knowing Your Rights and How to Best Provide for Your Child

young boy sitting and talking to an older woman Whether you’re planning on becoming a first-time parent or you have half a dozen children, it’s important to know what your parental rights and responsibilities are.

Historically, parental rights go hand-in-hand with parental responsibilities. Parents inherently have parental rights, but with that right comes a deep sense of responsibility. If a parent does not uphold their parental responsibilities they risk losing their parental rights.

This article will take a closer look at what parental rights are as well as the expectations for parental responsibilities.

What are Parental Rights?

From a legal perspective, parental rights refer to several things including physical and legal custody.

Here is a list of the rights that a parent has in the United States.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to the right for a parent to have their child live with them. In some cases such as divorce, this right might be shared between two parents.

Legal Custody

Legal custody is a little different than physical custody. Rather than simply being allowed to physically live with your child, legal custody focuses on the day-to-day decisions that a parent will make.

Legal custody gives a parent or parents the right as well as an obligation to make decisions about their child’s upbringing. This includes but is not limited to educational choices, religion, and philosophical upbringing.

Decisions About Medical Treatment

Another right a parent has is making medical decisions about their children. A parent has the right and responsibility to make choices about their child’s health.

Right to Enter into a Contract

Minors are not usually legally able to enter into a binding contract unless it is for essential items. Because of this, a parent has the right to enter into a contract for their child.

For example, a child actor would need the consent of a parent to enter into a contract for working on a TV show or movie. They would also need to have a parent sign for them.

Right to Pass Property to a Child

A parent has the right to pass property to a child through inheritance or through a gift. A will is still required in most states in order to pass down an inheritance, but a parent has the right to gift it to them.

Right to Child Visitation

A parent has the right to visit and have regular contact with their child.

Parental Rights in Michigan

The state of Michigan has several laws in place to protect parental rights.  

One law, in particular, gives parents and guardians the right to direct the care, teaching, and education of their child.

The law, commonly referred to as Act 451, explains, “It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children. The public schools of this state serve the needs of the pupils by cooperating with the pupil's parents and legal guardians to develop the pupil's intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive environment.”

Parents in Michigan also have the right to receive notification and opt their children out of sex education classes in school.

What are Parental Responsibilities?

Mother and daughter reading a book togetherA parent in the United States must meet their child’s basic needs. This means that they give their child medical care, housing, education, and food.

In addition, parents are expected to meet a child’s emotional and physical needs. They are responsible for protecting their child from harm and abuse. A parent also has the responsibility of meeting their child’s financial needs usually until the child is 18 or graduates from high school.

In some cases, if these needs aren’t met, a parent risks losing their parental rights in part or in entirety.

Termination of Rights

Each state has different statues regarding the termination of parental rights, but most include the reasons on this list:  

  • Chronic or extreme abuse or neglect
  • Sexual abuse
  • Sexual or physical abuse of other children in the home
  • Chronic drug or alcohol abuse that leads to the incapacitation of the parent
  • Failure to maintain contact with the child
  • Abandonment
  • Some felonies may lead to termination of rights
  • An act of crime against the child or other family members
  • Long-term incarceration in conjunction with long-term foster care

Termination of Rights in the State of Michigan

The state of Michigan has its own statues regarding the termination of parental rights.

In Michigan, there is a two-phase process for terminating parental rights. First, the court must determine if there is clear evidence that a parent has violated statutory law. Next, the court must determine if termination is in the child’s best interest.

The Michigan Child Welfare Law reads, “If the court finds that there are grounds for termination of parental rights, the court shall order termination of parental rights and order that additional efforts for reunification of the child with the parent shall not be made, unless the court finds that termination of parental rights to the child is clearly not in the child's best interests.”

The possible reasons for termination in Michigan are outlined in the amended 1975 PA 238 bill.

Parental Rights for Adoptive Parents

Two hands holding outsideEssentially, when you adopt a child you have all the parental rights and responsibilities that a biological parent enjoys.

The only case where this may differ is when parents opt for an open adoption. In this case, both the biological and adoptive parents can enter into an agreement that defines rights and responsibilities.

However, even in this type of arrangement, the adoptive parents hold primary rights and responsibilities. They are also able to terminate the agreement if it is no longer serving the adopted child’s interests.  

Parental Rights in Divorce

Another big reason that parental rights come into question is in the case of divorce. Often, parents must go to court to determine exactly what their parental rights look like in the case of a separation.

There is a myriad of factors that determine custody rights in a court case. Some of these factors include the parent’s ability to provide for the child, history of abuse, criminal records, whether a parent wishes to pursue full or partial custody, and many other things.

Once the court reaches a decision about custody, a parent’s rights may be limited. They may share custody with their co-parent or they may have their rights terminated in certain cases such as abuse.

Unless rights have been completely terminated, a decision by the court is not usually a life sentence. Divorced parents often return to court to redefine the terms of their agreements. As time goes on, custody rights might shift and parents might have equal custody of their child. Or, one parent might take the other parent to court because they feel that the co-parent should have less custodial rights.

In some cases, one parent may have sole legal custody but the other parent may still have visitation rights.

Parental Rights and Divorce in Michigan

The state of Michigan has a joint custody law in place which favors sharing custody between two parents when possible. Based on Michigan law, if two parents want to share custody the state must award it unless it is not in the child’s best interest.

Joint custody can be both legal and or physical custody. In some cases, parents may only share physical custody. That means they both have the right to physically spend time with the child. If parents share legal custody they are both able to make important decisions about their child’s health, spiritual, and educational upbringing.

“Parenting time” is the term used when one parent has primary custody but the other parent is still able to spend time with their child. This may mean that the child spends weekends or holidays with the non-custodial parent.

When awarding custody rights, the state of Michigan takes into account a list of things that are in the child’s best interest. These are outlined in the Child Custody Act of 1970 Act 91. Some of the factors mentioned in the act include:

  • The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
  • The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any.
  • The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs.
  • The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
  • Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.

Parental Rights and Legal Advice

mother and daughter working on a puzzle togetherAs any parent will tell you, raising children is no easy task. If you have questions about your parental rights or responsibilities, it can often be helpful to seek legal advice. Whether you’re recently divorced, thinking about adopting, or feel that your parental rights have been jeopardized in some way, legal counsel can offer helpful and life-changing information.

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