Lawful Fatherhood: Understanding Michigan Paternity

A child may bear a striking resemblance to a man and everyone can tell he is the child’s father, but unless that man was married to the child’s mother at the time of the birth or conception, the law does not consider the man to be the child’s legal father. Welcome to the world of paternity, or as it’s known in Michigan: lawful fatherhood.

While paternity laws work automatically when the parents are married to each other, this is not the case when the couple is unmarried. With the rate of children born out of wedlock increasing, it is vitally important to know how these children are recognized by the state because it is through this recognition that those children get legal access to both parents and government services and benefits.

Unmarried couples who have children together must take that extra step to establish paternity because under the law, the child has no legal father without it. The good news is that establishing paternity for unmarried couples is fairly straightforward in Michigan. They can do it voluntarily by agreeing to name the father of the child via an affidavit that is duly signed and sworn before a notary. These couples can even do it for free in the hospital when the child is born. Of course, it can be done later as well, but it will require the reissuance of a birth certificate for the child. These couples can also establish paternity by asking a court to decide paternity. In this situation, the court will usually order a DNA test to determine definitively who the father of the child is.

If a couple does take the affidavit route toward establishing paternity, they are also agreeing to certain conditions. Some examples of these conditions may be that the mother has custody of the child unless there is another agreement in writing, that both parents will be notified if one parent wants the child to be adopted by a third party, that both parents must provide support for the child, and that the parents lose their right to a DNA test to definitely establish paternity or have a trial to establish paternity.

No matter how paternity is established, however, it is incredibly important to get it done as soon as possible in the child’s life. This is because a child has a better chance of success in life with two parents supporting them, and establishing paternity gives fathers an opportunity to share in the care of their child. A father who establishes paternity via affidavit is also entitled to file a claim for custody or parenting time. The child can also become legally entitled to benefits from both parents including insurance policies, veterans’ benefits, retirement benefits, pensions, inheritances, and disability benefits.

If there is uncertainty as to whether the man is actually the child’s father, it is best not to proceed using an affidavit because once paternity has been established, it can be almost impossible to reverse it—even if there are DNA tests proving that the father listed on the affidavit is not the real father. Mothers who are uncertain as to the paternity of their child should consider having the court establish paternity via DNA testing to be absolutely certain.

While the law grants parental rights via paternity affidavits, it can also take them away via termination of parental rights. Termination of rights is extremely difficult and this is made so purposely to make it an option of last resort. Termination severs all parental ties, including for purposes of inheritance, benefits, and other legal rights.

If you have questions about paternity or parenting rights in Michigan, contact Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC. We can help you understand the applicable state laws and get the best resolution for you and your family.

~Originally Posted in June 2017~

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