"Paternity" means fatherhood. In the legal sense, paternity refers to determining a child's "legal" father and the related rights and obligations of the father to the child. In Michigan, "establishing paternity" means determining that the biological father of a child born out of wedlock (which means born to a mother not married to the biological father) is in fact the "legal" father.
Paternity is automatically established if the parents are married to each other when the child is born. The husband is presumed to be the legal father and his name will be on the child's birth certificate, unless a court determines that the husband is not the father. If the parents of a child are not married to each other when the child is born, then paternity must be established.
If you have questions about paternity after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.
In Michigan, paternity can be established either "voluntarily" or "involuntarily."
When the mother and father agree that the father is in fact the biological father, paternity can be established voluntarily. To voluntarily establish paternity, both the father and mother must sign before a notary what's called the "Affidavit of Parentage." It is common for both parents to sign the Affidavit of Parentage in the hospital when the child is born, which is free of charge. The Affidavit of Parentage can also be signed at a later date, but a fee is charged to change or add the father's name to the birth certificate. Once signed, the form must be filed with the Central Paternity Registry, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics at the Department of Community Health. The father can still sign an Affidavit of Parentage even if he is married to someone else. Once the Affidavit of Parentage is signed and filed, the father is the "legal" father.
Involuntary establishment of paternity is done through a court proceeding where the court issues an "order of filiation," which is just another way of saying paternity. This method is called "involuntary" because someone disputes paternity, which is why it becomes a court issue. Either the mother or father may file a court action to establish paternity. If the child is receiving public assistance, the Michigan Department of Human Services may also file a paternity suit on behalf of the public.
The person seeking to establish paternity is called the "petitioner." The petitioner must file a "complaint to establish paternity" at the circuit court in the county where the mother or child resides in order to begin the court process. Genetic or DNA testing may be required if the alleged father questions or denies that the child is his. If he is found to be the father, the court will usually order him to pay the costs of the test. If the court determines that the father is in fact the biological father, then the court will issue an order of paternity making the father the "legal" father.
Establishing paternity means more than just having a father named on the child's birth certificate. There are certain rights for both the father and the child that come with a determination of paternity.
In Michigan, when an Affidavit of Parentage is signed, it grants initial custody to the mother, unless otherwise determined by a court or agreed to by the parents in writing. However, once paternity is established, the father has the right to ask a court for custody of or visitation with the child. Similarly, once paternity is established, the child is entitled to support from the father, so a court order for child support can be obtained. A child might also be able to benefit from the father's medical and life insurance benefits, as well as Social Security and Veteran's Benefits. Furthermore, both the father and the child will be entitled to inheritance rights should one of them pass away before the other.
The Michigan Department of Human Services' website provides information about establishing paternity, including links to forms and a publication, What Every Parent Should Know About Establishing Paternity.
For the text of the Michigan Paternity Act, see Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.711.