What Are the Child Custody Rights for Unmarried Parents in Michigan?

These days, it’s not entirely unusual for couples to have children out of wedlock. In some cases, this occurs due to unexpected pregnancy, while in others, the parents make a choice to live together and raise a family without getting married. The problem is that this type of arrangement can muddy the waters of child custody, so that if parents separate, it may be more difficult to determine custody.

If you find yourself in such a situation and you want to retain full or shared custody of children, you need to understand how Michigan laws treat unmarried parents. Whether you’re the parent that remains in the family home, you move to a new home and make space for children, or you never lived in the same home as your partner, you should know what your rights are where custody is concerned, and what you can do to maintain or gain custody.

Mothers Have a Leg Up
In a dispute about child custody between unmarried parents, primary custody will initially fall to the biological mother. Further, the mother will retain primary custody pending paternity litigation, and the father will have no rights to custody or visitation during this time unless there is an Affidavit of Parentage.

An Affidavit of Parentage is a legal document, often presented at the time of the child’s birth. Both the mother and father sign it to acknowledge the natural parentage of the child. Unmarried fathers that are not present at the time of the child’s birth may not be presented with this document. Mothers may refuse to sign it.

In addition, fathers that aren’t sure of the child’s parentage shouldn’t sign an Affidavit of Parentage, since signing this legal document means that you waive the right to seek a paternity test to determine biological parentage later on.

If, however, an unmarried man is certain that he is the father, he should sign an Affidavit of Parentage, either at the time of childbirth, or any time after. With this document, a man establishes himself as the biological father of a child and his name will be added to the birth certificate. This also establishes custodial rights.

Fathers are Not Without Recourse
Suppose you don’t have an Affidavit of Parentage and the mother of your children won’t allow you custody or visitation. You’re not without options. You could begin by filing a Notice of Intent to Claim Paternity prior to childbirth, which is important if you suspect the mother plans to put the child up for adoption.

After the child is born you can file a paternity action and compel blood tests to determine paternity of the child. Once it is established that you are the biological father, you can begin child custody proceedings.

What if a Woman is Married to Someone Else?
In Michigan, a woman’s husband at the time of childbirth is considered to be the biological father, unless proven otherwise by a paternity test. Unfortunately, a biological father may not challenge paternity if a woman is married to someone else – only the married woman or her husband can do that.

If you are an unmarried parent seeking custody, contact a qualified attorney at The Gucciardo Law Firm at 248-723-5190 today to help you understand your rights and how best to proceed.

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We focus exclusively on family law matters so we are always available to answer your questions and help.

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