Termination of parental rights is one of the most terrifying things a parent could possibly experience. It’s often called the “civil death penalty” for parents. After all, what could be more heartbreaking than having the state tear your child from your care, and then tell you that you may never see them, care for them, or have anything to do with them, ever again. This horrific scenario is exactly what happened to Michelle Gach in Livingston County Family Court. But thankfully, the Michigan Court of Appeals agrees that she shouldn’t have lost her child.
In 2014, Gach’s 3-year-old son was discovered outside with their two dogs, wearing only a T-shirt and a soiled diaper. The neighbor claims that the boy’s diaper was soaked with urine and that feces has seeped out and was running down his legs. That neighbor contacted police and officers arrived on the scene shortly afterwards.
Police knocked on Gash’s door, which was unlocked. Officers said that the inside of the home was dirty and that the carpet had been pulled up, exposing bare floorboards. Gash says that she had removed the carpet in preparation for installing new flooring. However, police immediately contacted CPS (Children’s Protective Services), who sent an agent out to remove the Gash child. They immediately began the process of terminating her parental rights.
Although family members testified that Gach’s son rarely wore soiled diapers and never left the house unsupervised, CPS denied Gach visitation with her son and proceeded with the termination case against her. Their grounds, they claimed, was the fact that Gach had lost parental rights to two other children in the past. For this reason, they claimed, state law prohibited them from offering services and instead required that they seek to terminate the parent-child relationship.
Angela Tisch, a Livingston County CPS worker assigned to Gach’s case, provided testimony at the termination hearings. According to what she told the court, Gach had been evasive in her dealings with investigators and had lawfully refused both police and CPS access to her home.
According to Bob Wheaton, spokesman with the Department of Health and Human Services, explained the agency’s decision as follows: “The Michigan Child Protection Law requires us to file a petition for termination if a parent has a past termination and there is a current confirmation of abuse or neglect. The court reviews the evidence and decides whether to grant the petition.” In this case, the Livingston County judge decided to terminate Gash’s right to this child.
On appeal, the appellate court that decided that the termination of Gach’s parental rights wasn’t the right decision. The Michigan Court of Appeals has agreed with Gach, and her case has been returned to the Livingston County family court. You might think that Ms. Gash would have her child back home with her by now. You would be wrong. The Family Court judge has decided that Gash can’t even see her child yet. The judge now wants to speak to a counselor before making a decision about when this mother can begin visits with her child.
This is a momentous decision with far-reaching implications for other Michigan parents who have lost their children to overzealous CPS workers and biased police officers. If you are facing a parental termination contact our CPS defense team. We can help you during this difficult time.