Child Abuse and Neglect Overview
Marquette County Prosecutor's Office
234 West Baraga Avenue
Marquette, Michigan 49855
A child abuse case is started by filing of a petition alleging abuse or neglect with the Probate Court. The petition lays out the facts showing abuse or neglect. The Family Independence Agency, a police agency, or the prosecutor’s office may file a petition. The Family Independence Agency is usually the party that files the petition.
When a police agency or the Family Independence Agency discovers a neglected or abused child they may remove the child from the home and immediately file a petition. A hearing is promptly scheduled in Probate Court to review the decision for removal, the placement of the child pending a final decision, and set visitation rights while the case is pending. The parents may request a court appointed attorney at this hearing or they may retain their own counsel.
The prosecuting attorney’s office has the responsibility for proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the neglect or abuse occurred. “Preponderance of the evidence" means the facts must show it is more likely than not the abuse/neglect happened. The next step is a trial in which a six person jury decides if the prosecution has proven the children have been abused or neglected. If a jury finds the parents responsible, the court has jurisdiction to make decisions regarding the care and placement of the children.
A dispositional hearing is scheduled after the trial to make orders regarding the case. Under Michigan law, the goal of the court is to reunite the family. Generally, the court sets up a program to help the parents solve the problems that lead to the neglect and/or abuse. Drug treatment, parenting classes, and mental health treatment are among the common requirements of court dispositions.
In severe cases of neglect/abuse, where serious injury has been done to the children, the court may terminate parent rights at disposition. Termination of parental rights can only be done where there is a proof by clear and convincing evidence that the best interest of the child would be served by termination. Serious physical injury or sexual assault are the most common situations where immediate termination is sought. These cases are unusual. If parents are ordered into counseling or treatment as part of a program to stop abuse and reunite the family and they fail to do what is required, they face the possibility of a parental rights termination petition being filed against them.
Most cases result in a course of successful treatment for the parents followed by reunification of the family.