Petition – The document that starts a child abuse case.
In Michigan, all child abuse cases start when a petition is submitted to the court. A petition is a written document that alleges that a parent, guardian, nonparent adult (e.g., live-in boyfriend or girlfriend), or legal custodian has harmed or failed to properly care for a child. MCR 3.903(A)(20).
Any person who suspects child abuse or neglect may report it to the Department of Human Services (DHS). Within 24 hours of receiving a report, DHS must start its own investigation or refer the matter to the police or county prosecutor. MCL 722.628(1). After the investigation is completed, a petition is drafted and filed with the court where the child is residing or found.
The purpose of the petition is to tell the court, you, and your attorneys what the allegations are. Without a petition, you would be left guessing about what the government claims you did to harm or neglect your child. In most counties, the petition is drafted by the Prosecuting Attorney or the Children’s Protective Services worker who is investigating you. A court in Michigan is limited to addressing the issues raised in the petition. If additional allegations are made against you, the court cannot inquire into those allegations unless the petition is amended. In re Hatcher, 443 Mich 426 (1993).
The initial petition may ask that the court take jurisdiction over the children and order that the family engage in services or it may seek to terminate the parental rights of the parents. The Children’s Protective Services worker will request that the court terminate your parental rights if she believes that a parent, guardian, custodian, or nonparent adult has done any of the following:
- abandonment of a young child
- criminal sexual conduct involving penetration, attempted penetration, or assault with intent to penetrate
- battering, torturing, or other severe physical abuse
- loss or serious impairment of an organ or limb
- life threatening injury
- murder or attempted murder
The determination of whether to seek termination of parental rights if fact-intensive. The list above is not an exhaustive list of reasons that a Children’s Protective Services worker might seek to terminate your parental rights.