Frequently Asked Questions about Paternity
What is meant by paternity?
Every child has two biological parents. However, not every child has two legal parents.
In most cases, because the mother has given birth, there is certainty about the identity of the mother so that a legal mother and child relationship is automatic. This is not true of the father so that there are different ways in which the identity of the legal father can be determined so that both the child and the father can enjoy the benefits of that relationship.
What are those benefits?
Only the legal father has rights to the child that can be enforced through the courts. These include rights to inheritances, parenting time, custody, and support.
Is it necessary to establish paternity for every child?
No. If a child is conceived or born when the mother is legally married, her husband is the legal father of the child—even if he is not the biological father—unless a court decides that it is not his child when the parties divorce.
What if a child is born after a divorce is final?
If the child is born less than 10 months after the divorce was final, it may be necessary to reopen the divorce case.
Unless the mother has remarried in that time, the Michigan Department of Public Health will not accept an Affidavit of Parentage or issue a birth certificate with the name of any man except the husband until there is a court order stating that the ex-husband is not the father.
If the divorced husband is the biological father, the Divorce Judgment should be amended to include the child as a child of the marriage in any provisions for custody, support or parenting time.
What if the mother is not married?
If the mother is not married when the child is conceived or born, the biological or putative father has no legal rights until his paternity is established.
What is a putative father?
A man believed to be the biological father by the mother and others but who has not been determined to be the legal father is called a "putative" father.
How is paternity established legally?
There are two ways that paternity can be established. One is by voluntarily filing an Affidavit of Parentage and the other requires that one of the parents bring a lawsuit to have a Court decide the identity of the legal father.
What type of lawsuit can be filed to decide paternity?
Either parent can start a lawsuit in Family Court under the Michigan Paternity Act. A Complaint is filed stating that the man is believed to be the father of a child born out of wedlock and asks that the Judge decide that he is the legal father. The Judge can also decide responsibility for child support and for "confinement" costs. The Judge can also order parenting time or changes in the legal or physical custody of the child.
In some cases, the Michigan Family Independence Agency or the County Prosecutor will bring the case in the name of the mother if the child. This happens frequently if the child is receiving public assistance such as Food Stamps, Medicaid, or FIP (cash assistance) benefits.
Is there a right to blood tests in a paternity case?
The Judge can order blood tests. If the case is brought by the Prosecutor or FIA, he can order that the blood tests be paid for by the State.
Is there a right to an attorney at public expense in a paternity case?
The Michigan courts have decided that a man is entitled to an attorney in this type of case. They have also decided that, if he is unable to afford to hire an attorney, an attorney will be provided at public expense.
How can parents voluntarily establish paternity?
The mother and father publicly acknowledge that the child is theirs by signing a joint, notarized AFFIDAVIT OF PARENTAGE and filing it with the Michigan Department of Public Health, Vital Records Division. There is a form for this available at most hospitals as well as the Probate Court and the County Clerk’s office. Click here to download the Affidavit of Parentage form from the State of Michigan's web site.
Does this put the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate?
That depends on when the Affidavit is signed and filed.
If it is signed at the hospital when the child is born and the information is completed for the original birth certificate, the name of the father will be on the birth certificate.
If the Affidavit is filed after that time, the birth certificate will NOT be changed automatically. There are separate forms to correct birth records that must be filed with the Department of Public Health. The forms are available at the County Clerk’s office or on the State of Michigan's web site. Click here to view the forms on the State's web site. The web site also has a phone number to call for assistance with the forms. There is a fee of $26 to add or change the name of the father.
Will the child’s name be changed?
Not necessarily. Under Michigan law, the mother of a child born out of wedlock has the right to decide the name of the child. The child’s last name can be changed on a corrected birth certificate only if the mother signs the Affidavit.
Does signing and filing an Affidavit of Parentage mean that the father has custody rights?
No. The law provides that the mother has sole legal and physical custody of the child unless there is a court order giving the father custody and/or parenting time. Filing an Affidavit of Parentage gives the father "standing" to file a case in court asking for a change of custody or to have rights to parenting time/visitation enforced by the Court. A biological father who has not established paternity does not have rights to be enforced.
What if a man thinks that the child is not his after the Affidavit of Parentage has been filed?
The Family Court can "set aside" or "revoke" an acknowledgment of paternity. This can be brought up in a custody, parenting time or support case. It can also be brought to the Court in a new case.
This is not easy to do. The parent making the request must prove that he or she only signed the Affidavit because of fraud, coercion, duress or misrepresentation or that there is newly discovered evidence showing he or she is not the parent. However, even if the Judge finds that this is so, the judge is not required to set aside the Affidavit. The Judge also has to find that it is in the best interest of the child to do so. If the child would be hurt by the loss of the relationship or support, the Judge can refuse to revoke the Affidavit even if there is proof that the person is not the biological parent.
Can the court order blood tests in a case to set aside an Affidavit of Parentage?
Yes. The Judge can order blood tests. However, the person who requests that the blood tests be done is responsible for the costs. There is no right to have blood tests at public expense.
Is there a right to an attorney in a case to revoke an Affidavit of Parentage?
This is a civil case and you have a right to have an attorney represent you if you choose to hire one. However, there is no right to have an attorney appointed to represent you at no cost and Legal Services does not generally handle this type of case.
To view more information about paternity, click here to view the Family Independence Agency's pamphlet, "What Every Parent Should Know About Establishing Paternity". Click here to go to the Family Independence Agency's online information about paternity.