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The aunt had lost track of her nephew before his parents’ rights were terminated. When she discovered that he was eligible for adoption, and learned that his foster mother was refusing to adopt him, she filed a petition to adopt him. Around that time, the boy decided adoption by his foster mother would be okay, so she also petitioned for adoption. Both homes were approved, and Michigan Children’s Institute (MCI) was charged with choosing between the foster home where he had lived so long and the relative aunt with whom he had a relationship when he was younger.
During this process, the foster mom and aunt, who became engaged in a ‘competition’ for the boy, were quite critical of one another even though they had never met. The aunt was convinced that the foster mom didn’t really want him enough to adopt him, but had filed her petition out of spite only after she heard about the aunt’s intent. The foster mom wondered why the aunt hadn’t expressed interest earlier but decided to come forward in the eleventh hour when he was about to be adopted by his foster mom. The case was referred to mediation with MCI willing to accept any decision the foster mother and aunt made with the hope that the situation might improve enough that the child could have future contact with these two women who both cared about him.
The adoption worker and additional workers from two agencies attended the first meeting, along with the foster mother and aunt. There were three meetings before the case was resolved but between meetings, the boy met with his aunt and foster mother for dinner in a restaurant and again at his foster home. The aunt quickly realized that her nephew was happy, well cared for, and really wanted to stay in his foster home. Both the aunt and foster mother came to understand that the assumptions they had initially made about one another were not accurate and that each had good, loving reasons for their eleventh hour decisions to file adoption petitions.
By the second meeting, the aunt and foster mother were riding together to the mediation. By the third meeting, they had met with the boy and his therapist prior to the mediation, and the aunt had let him know that she would withdraw her petition, because she wanted to do what would make him happiest. She also made sure he understood that she was not turning her back on him and that she would always be available for him and would always consider him a member of her family too.
At the final mediation session, they made a good faith, non-enforceable agreement that it was in the child’s best interest to continue his relationship with his aunt and arranged a plan for scheduling for future visits. The aunt agreed to withdraw her petition, and he was adopted by his foster mother.
At mediation, it was revealed the men had an altercation 10 years earlier, holding a grudge ever since. During mediation they were able to discuss past incidents and share that they were no longer the person they were ten years ago. Each apologized for their part in their troubled past. Additionally, they found out that each valued their family above all else. They Nothing, they said, was more important to them than caring for and protecting their families. They did not leave best friends but they left understanding that they had similar values and similar priorities. Without this mediation, one of the parties said, “The next time we met someone was probably going to get hurt or killed.”
At the conference, school staff heard many of the mother’s problems and fears related to her own health issues, lack of transportation, and safety concerns for her daughter that had resulted in the school absences. After discussing different options and the importance of the child’s school attendance, the principal was able to arrange for the student to receive a bus waiver and to offer the option of parenting counseling from a social service agency in partnership with WCDRC.