“But I am on the affidavit of parentage and birth certificate,” is a phrase I frequently hear from exasperated, unmarried fathers seeking help with a custody dispute. Often such clients come to Barberi Law when the mother of the child, for one reason or another, refuses to allow the father to exercise parenting time with the child. However, what many unmarried fathers are surprised and upset to discover is that the mother is not legally required to do so.
An affidavit of parentage is a form signed by parties who were not married when the child was born or conceived. By signing the affidavit of parentage, the unmarried father acknowledges that he is the biological father of the child. As such, an affidavit of parentage establishes paternity. Once paternity is established, through an affidavit of parentage, the unmarried father can be added to the child’s birth certificate.
Yet, under Michigan law, neither an affidavit of parentage nor birth certificate provide an unmarried father with any legal rights to custody or parenting time with the child. In fact, every affidavit of parentage, albeit in small lettering, contains the following “[t]he mother has initial custody of the child . . . unless otherwise determined by the court.” This means that the mother of the child has sole legal and sole physical custody of the child. As such, the mother is not legally required to provide the unmarried father with any parenting time with the child. In order to obtain a legal right to custody or parenting time with the child, the unmarried father must file a Motion for Custody and Parenting Time with the Court.
As of 2019, approximately 41% of children in Michigan were born to unmarried parents. With this figure in mind, one has to wonder if the above-mentioned language in Michigan’s affidavit of parentage forms is keeping up with the times.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Screening for Critical Congenital Heart Disease at Birth Saves Lives. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1205-screening-congenital-heart-disease.html. Accessed December 8, 2017.