Many couples choose, for whatever reasons, not to marry. Of course, that is their right, and it is up to them as consenting adults to determine the best course of action for their relationship. When an unmarried couple has children, though, the father may find himself getting the short end of the proverbial stick from a legal perspective.
The legal distinction between married and unmarried parents
When a couple is married at the time a child is born, the husband is presumed to be the father of the child. His name will be added to the child’s birth certificate unless the couple specifically requests otherwise, and he will be imbued with the rights enjoyed by a parent under the law.
- The right to seek custody of the child or visitation time in the event of a split
- The right and responsibility to raise the provide for the child’s needs
- The right to make decisions on behalf of the child in regards to legal, medical, financial, religious and educational matters
- The right to seek child support payments from a non-custodial parent or to apply for government assistance to help support the child
If the mother and father are unmarried when the child is born, however, the father doesn’t automatically receive any of these rights, and won’t until such a time when paternity is established.
Establishing paternity – the first step
As an unmarried father, the first step you can take toward securing your parental rights is to establish that you are indeed the father of the child. You and the child’s mother can do this voluntarily, by having your name added to the child’s birth certificate after the child is born or by later signing an Affidavit of Parentage and submitting it to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (where it will be catalogued in the Central Paternity Registry in the Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics).
If the mother of your child refuses to acknowledge your paternity voluntarily, or she is unsure if you are in fact the father, either of you may request genetic testing in order to establish paternity.
Once paternity has been established, you will enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as any other parent. You will be able to bring an action for physical or legal child custody or visitation/parenting time, and you will be subject to paying or receiving child support depending on the final custody arrangement. For more information about the rights of unmarried fathers in Michigan, seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney in your area.