BEALOR: The importance of legal parenthood

Numerous studies recognize the importance of two involved parents in children’s lives. Sometimes, “legal” parenthood can be difficult to understand. Establishing a “legal” mom is less complicated that establishing a “legal” dad, as birth records are maintained to confirm that a woman has given birth. With dads, it is slightly more complicated.

In Michigan, women become “legal” moms in two ways: (1) by giving birth to a child; and (2) by adopting a child.  For men, Michigan law provides 3 ways for a man to become a “legal” dad: (1) by being married to a woman who gives birth; (2) by signing an Affidavit of Parentage; and (3) by bringing a court action and getting a Court order that says the man is the “legal” dad.

Each state has its own law related to “legal” parenthood. For both moms and dads, the establishment of “legal” parenthood in another state has the same effect as establishing “legal” parenthood in Michigan because Michigan respects other states’ paternity determinations.

In Michigan, the paternity of a child may be established under: (1) the Paternity Act through a paternity action; (2) the Acknowledgement of Parentage Act by the mom and dad signing a document called an Acknowledgement of Parentage; (3) the Revocation of Paternity Act through a ROPA Court proceeding; (4) the Genetic Parentage Act through a DHHS administrative process; (5) the Summary Support and Paternity Act a hybrid administrative process and Court proceeding; (6) the Uniform Family Support Act and the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act through a Court proceeding; and (7) the Michigan Adoption Code through an adoption proceeding.

Proper execution of an Affidavit of Parentage is the easiest way to establish a man as the “legal” dad. Parents who sign an Affidavit of Parentage establish legal rights and obligations including confirmation that mom has initial custody of the child until otherwise established by a court order or agreed upon in writing by the parties and acknowledged by court order. Additionally, a mom signing an Affidavit of Parentage must certify that she was not married when the child was born or conceived, or that the child, though born or conceived during a marriage, is not an issue of that marriage as determined by a court order. A properly executed Affidavit of Parentage allows the “legal” dad to be added to the child’s birth certificate.

Parents cannot seek a court order for custody, parenting time, child support or any other child-related matter until the parents are “legal” parents. This means that if a dad wants a parenting time order for a child where paternity has not yet established, first the dad would need to establish paternity. Then, the dad could ask for parenting time.  The court cannot enter orders regarding a child until the court has proof of paternity. 

When parents receive assistance such as Medicaid or TANF benefits, DHHS seeks a child support order to ensure that children’s financial needs are met. If paternity has not been established, a paternity action is filed with the court and then when paternity is established, the court may also enter custody, parenting time, and child support orders.   

For moms with a child born out of wedlock, if there is no court action to establish paternity and no signed Affidavit of Parentage, by Michigan law, the mom has sole custody of the child. The dad, as he is not a “legal” dad, has no rights. Of course, sometimes parents agree to an out of court parenting time schedule or child support agreement. But if that informal, out-of-court agreement breaks down, it is not enforceable by the Friend of the court or the court.

All parents need to be aware of their legal rights. A good resource for parents is Michigan Legal Help found on the web at michiganlegalhelp.org. Michigan Legal Help is for people handling legal problems without a lawyer. Parents may also wish to consult with an attorney to get specific advice about their situation.

If you have questions about the FOC that you think would be helpful to address in future columns, please email:  foc@cassco.org

Carol Bealor is the director at the Cass County Friend of the Court.

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