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15
March

Parental Rights and Obligations for Children Born to Unmarried Couples

By Jeffrey M. Salassa

young family enjoying newborn baby before meeting with Clinton Township custody attorneys to determine living arrangements

Most children grow up knowing who their parents are without question and see their parents’ authority and legal status recognized by those that matter, such as school officials, doctors, and government agencies. Recognition as a child’s parent brings with it rights regarding the physical custody of the child and the authority to make important life decisions for the child’s benefit. Until this past summer, when the United States Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage, many couples faced an uphill battle on the issue of parental rights since many states, including Michigan, prohibited their marriage. However, while their right to marry has changed, many state courts are now grappling with how to handle child custody rights of same sex couples who raised children together but never married due to the previous prohibition.

A recent article by a Michigan media outlet looked at an ongoing custody battle between two women where only one is biologically related to their two children but both acted as equal co-parents during their relationship. If the court gives the non-biological parent standing to pursue custody, it would likely open the door for men to challenge for custody of children they raised but did not father. Given the importance of this issue, an overview of the rights and obligations of parents for children born out of wedlock, as well as the status of adults who hold themselves out as parents but do not qualify for this status legally, will appear below.

Unwed Parents

There are two situations where the marital status of a mother affects the custody and visitation rights of the father. Most commonly, an unwed woman who gives birth to a child is automatically presumed to be the natural parent and receives full custody rights. Less commonly, a woman gives birth to a child fathered by another man while married, which blocks all parental rights of the biological father unless a court previously determined the child was not fathered by the woman’s husband. Typically, issues of custody and visitation only become relevant if legal action is initiated by a parent, and it is at this point that the biological father must establish paternity of the child through a signed Affidavit of Parentage or with the results of a paternity test. However, questions around paternity can also be raised if a woman is seeking money from her child’s biological father for childbirth-related expenses.

Michigan law imposes financial responsibility on both parents for medical expenses connected with the pregnancy and birth that can be apportioned in several ways at the court’s discretion. Specifically, these expenses include:

  • Medical expenses related to the mother’s pregnancy;
  • Medical expenses related to the child’s birth;
  • Support and education of the child; and
  • Funeral expenses if the child is deceased.

Generally, the court will divide the financial obligation between the parents according to their ability to pay. The court will only enforce payment for expenses it deems reasonable, and it can require the father to pay a greater percentage of the financial obligation or not require the mother to pay anything at all.

When Is a Man Declared to be a Child’s Legal Father?

A court will declare a man to be a child’s legal father if any of the following occur:

  • A court makes a determination that the man is the father;
  • The man verbally admits to the court that he fathered the child or submits a written acknowledgement of paternity;
  • The man is notified of the paternity action but fails to appear and a default judgment is entered against him; or
  • A genetic test identifies him as the child’s biological father.

Ask for Help from a Michigan Family Attorney

Establishing paternity is important for the stability of the child and so that the Court can enforce the legal obligations that all parents have toward their children. If you need court intervention to create a financial obligation of support or to establish custody, it is important to work with an experienced family attorney who knows the best options for meeting your goal. The Clinton Township Law Firm of Iafrate & Salassa, P.C. can help your address these legal issues head on. Contact them today to schedule your free consultation.

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