Although Dion Roddy thought about going to law school while still an undergraduate student at U of M Dearborn, he ultimately chose a career in advertising after graduating Magna Cum Laude in 1990. Years later when he and his wife decided to start a family, they looked into adoption and alternative means of reproduction. Eventually, they chose to adopt their daughter and the process was complete nearly a year and a half later. The adoption process was fascinating to Roddy and it rekindled his passion for law. He knew he wanted to focus on adoption law as an attorney. He enrolled in Wayne State University Law School in 2009, was a Moot Court champion, and graduated cum laude in 2012. While in law school, Roddy interned at the Michigan Children’s Law Center and was exposed to juvenile delinquency matters, and abuse and neglect cases. He also clerked for Family Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca in the Oakland County Circuit Court for two years, where he was exposed to divorce, child support matters, paternity, custody, juvenile matters, and adoptions. Roddy joined the law practice of Green & Green in Farmington Hills in 2013, where he practices family law and adoption law. Attorney Dion Roddy and Family [Attorney Dion Roddy and Family]
“While family law can include the breakup of a family through divorce, I enjoy adoption law because it brings families together. My primary motivation in becoming a lawyer was to help families navigate the legal aspect of the adoption process,” says Roddy. ”I believe I am uniquely positioned to do that as an adoption attorney who is also an adoptive parent. I understand the law and how to navigate the process, yet also understand the emotional side of the adoptive process having experienced it myself first hand.” This experience and understanding equips Roddy to be an empathetic and effective advocate for his clients.
There are a number of legal issues at the forefront of the Michigan legislature regarding adoption:
I. HB 4646
In an effort to become a more adoption friendly state, Michigan passed a series of laws that would enable birth parents to terminate their rights outside of a court hearing, provided they are represented by an attorney. House Bill No. 4646 became law on April 15, 2014, giving birth parents a revocation period of 5 days after the termination. Some states allow a period as short as 72 hours in which to revoke a termination of rights.
A number of measures have been put in place to ensure that the birth parent is fully aware of what he or she is doing by terminating his or her parental rights over the child:
- The birth parent must be represented by an attorney.
- An attorney must be present, along with a child placing agency worker.
- The out of court release or consent cannot be executed until three days after the birth of the child.
II. HB 4647
Governor Snyder also signed this Bill into law on April 15 2014, and shortened the time between the formal placement of the child with the proposed adoptive parents and the finalization of the adoption. Currently in Michigan, there is a six month supervisory period between formal placement and finalization. This new law permits a petitioning adoptive family to ask the court to waive the period. The court then holds a hearing to determine whether or not circumstances warrant shortening the period, or waiving the time period entirely. Additionally, upon a showing of good cause the court can extend the supervisory period up to 18 months after the formal placement.
In the case of children who are less than one year old at the time of the filing of the petition, an order finalization the adoption can be entered three months after formal placement. This bill has the affect essentially of giving the court more discretion in determining how long the supervisory period should extend. In the case of infants it shortens the period and permits the new family to have that resolution sooner and to securely move forward with the bonding that is so essential in adoptive families.
III. HB 4648
Also signed into law on April 15, 2014, this law strengthens the rights of putative fathers. If the putative father appears at a hearing and requests custody of the child, the court will look into his fitness and ability to properly care for the child. In Michigan, the best interests of the child govern whether or not the father should have custody. If a putative father is deemed fit to parent the child and the mother has already terminated her rights, the court can award the father custody of the child and terminate the adoption.
This law, while strengthening putative father’s rights can pose a difficulty for adoptive parents. Legislation like this just underscores the fact that adoptive parents need to have a good adoption attorney in their corner making sure that any and all potential putative fathers have been notified properly and that nobody is going to surprise the adoptive family by coming forward to request custody of the child. While these situations make headlines, most adoptions go very smoothly. Parental rights are usually terminated lawfully, with everyone receiving proper notice, and with no surprises.
IV. Same Sex Marriage
On March 21, 2014, the Federal District Court struck down the ban on same sex marriage in Michigan in the case of DeBoer v Snyder. The court’s decision and Order has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Sixth Circuit. The Michigan Attorney General, Bill Schuette, filed a Motion for an indefinite stay to be placed on the Order pending the appeal.
The same sex marriage issue has a tremendous impact on adoption legislation and there is a bill before the legislature to permit second parent adoption, which would allow same sex couples to adopt a child without the need of a marriage. Currently in Michigan, only married couples or a single person can adopt. However, the removal of any prohibition on same sex marriage would essentially eliminate the need for any sort of second parent adoption provision.
Obviously, same sex marriage is a controversial subject and there are some agencies that may oppose facilitating adoptions to same-sex couples based on sincerely held religious belief. There are a number of bills before the legislature at this time currently in process that would permit agencies receiving state funding to object to placements in certain adoptions based on sincerely held religious or moral convictions.
V. In Re AJR
In this case now pending before the Michigan Supreme Court, the issue is whether a step parent adoption can go forward absent consent of both biological parents when they share joint legal custody. A divorced woman with children remarried and her new husband wished to adopt the children. The non-custodial parent (ex-husband) hadn’t supported the children or communicated with them in years, yet would not consent to the adoption. The adopting couple took the father to court to try and terminate his parental rights. Under Michigan law, if the non-custodial parent fails to pay support for two years and fails to meaningfully communicate or visit the child for two years, the court can involuntarily terminate the non-custodial parent’s rights. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that if there is joint legal custody between the ex-spouses, there is no way that a stepparent adoption can take place without consent of both biological parents.
Mr. Roddy has received a number of calls from people wanting to enter into a stepparent adoption who are not married yet. Fortunately in Michigan, there is no statutory minimum amount of time that a couple has to be married before they can undertake a stepparent adoption, but circuit courts may have local requirements. For instance, Wayne County requires a couple to be married six months before petitioning for a stepparent adoption. Montcalm County has a one year waiting period. Oakland County doesn’t have any period; however, a Judge is going to take into consideration how long a couple has been married, among other factors, in determining whether or not to go forward with a stepparent adoption.
Couples contemplating adoption sometimes have the misconception that hiring an adoption attorney will make the process more expensive. In reality, independent adoptions can be much less expensive than agency adoptions. Agency adoptions can run anywhere from $12,000.00, on the very low end, to upwards of $40,000.00 and above for some international adoptions. Attorney fees for an independent adoption do not run anywhere near the $40,000.00 mark unless the adoption is highly contested, requiring extensive litigation to determine what the best interests of the child are in the given situation.
Michigan law strictly prohibits an attorney from referring a birth parent to an adoptive parent,. Attorneys cannot charge a fee for assisting a birth parent in selecting an adoptive parent. Therefore, the adoptive parent(s) either need to locate a child to adopt on their own, or enlist the help of some other facilitator or agency.
Adoption law is very specialized, and it encompasses a number of different issues:
- constitutional rights pertaining to the termination of parental rights;
- interstate law conflicts;
- international law conflicts;
- immigration law issues.
Therefore, it is advisable to hire an attorney well versed in these issues. There are very few adoption attorneys, and not all family law attorneys are familiar with these issues.
While most adoptions go smoothly, there are times when problems occur. These situations include:
- A failure to notify all parties;
- The rights of parents have not been terminated properly;
- A birth parent comes back later and is able to disrupt the adoption, and essentially break up the new family.
“Birth parents have fundamental constitutional rights in the care, custody, and control of their children. In order for a termination of those rights to stick, it is very important that due process is followed. A disrupted or failed adoption is an adoptive parent’s worst nightmare. Imagine taking a child home, bonding with him or her, raising the child, and then losing the child one day due to some legal technicality. It is emotionally akin to the death of a child. A good adoption attorney will do everything in his/her power to prevent that situation from happening by following the law, and making sure the process is followed properly,” notes Roddy.