What rights does a non-biological parent have in a Michigan child custody dispute?
Understanding the Paternity Act
Under a 1956 Michigan law titled the Paternity Act, if a child was conceived or born at any point during the marriage, a man will still have all of the rights and responsibilities of a parent as that child’s legal father, even if he and the child are not biologically related.
According to the Paternity Act, if a married woman has a child with a man who is not her husband, the biological father does not have any established parental rights. Even if the biological father wants to take responsibility for the child and pay support, he is under no legal obligation to do so. If you want to have your legal status as the child’s father changed, the only way to do so is through the courts.
Filing a Motion/Complaint to Establish a Child Born Out of Wedlock
You can either bring a motion or complaint before a judge to have your legal status as the child’s father removed. Essentially, you are requesting that the courts help determine that you are not the father of the child. A motion or complaint can be filed by either you, the mother or an alleged father. In some cases, a motion or complaint can be filed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
Depending on who files the request, there are specific things that must be proven in court.
Michigan Custody Laws
Michigan laws are set up to ensure that both parents remain a part of their children’s lives, even after a divorce is finalized. Some states automatically assume that joint custody is in the best interest of the child and will move forward with the joint custody process accordingly. However, the state of Michigan requires that the courts only suggest joint custody as an option, and requires that the courts only consider this arrangement if requested by either or both parents. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.26a (1).).
Joint Custody Arrangements
Joint custody law in the state of Michigan presumes that it is in the best interest of the child to maintain a close relationship with both parents (Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.27a (1).). If the parents can reach an agreement, the courts must order it unless it is determined otherwise to not be in the best interests of the child.
If parents have joint legal custody, they are both able to make decisions regarding the child’s education, health care, religious training, and extracurricular activities. If the parents have joint physical custody, they will share time with the kids, although that time may not be split exactly 50/50.
If the court, however, decides to award one parent physical custody of the child, a judge will create a visitation schedule for the other parent.
Establishing Custody and Parenting Time
If you are a legal parent divorcing your spouse, a court order will determine who gets custody and who has parenting time, similar to any other custody dispute.
If at any point the other parent is not adhering to the parenting time agreement as ordered by the court, you have the following options available:
- Reach out to the Friend of the Court and request that they start proceedings to enforce the parenting time order. The Friend of the Court must enforce parenting time orders, and usually starts enforcement after receiving a formal written complaint.
- File a motion with the court to enforce the parenting time order. You can do this with or without the help of an attorney.
What Factors Will the Judge Consider in a Custody Hearing?
The Michigan Child Custody Act lists the following factors that courts must consider when establishing the best interests of the child:
- The love, affection, and emotional connection between the child and parent
- Each parent’s willingness to provide love, affection, and guidance
- The ability and willingness of either parent to provide appropriate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care
- The moral fitness of both parents
- The child’s stability and whether they will continue to live in a safe environment
- The mental health of the parents and children
- The child’s reasonable preference
- The permanence of the child’s home
- The child’s home, school, and community records
- Each parent’s willingness to encourage a continuing relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent
- Any issues of domestic violence
- Any other relevant factors that require evaluation by the court to determine a custody arrangement (Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.23.)
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