The Saturday before the 3rd Sunday in June is what I like to call Not-The-Father’s Day, a day to honor those men who had a dangerously close brush with parenthood. For this year’s celebrations, I’ll be explaining a bit how paternity law works in Michigan and what you should do if you believe you are Not The Father.

(Please note: because of the nature of this article, I will be assuming All Marriages Are Hetero and All Spouses Are Cisgender.)

Terminology

Time for some legal vocab. In this article, and in Michigan law, an Acknowledged Father is a man who signed an Affidavit of Parentage. An Alleged Father is a person who could be the father. A Presumed Father is a man married to the mother at the time of conception.

How is Paternity Established?

For married couples, it’s easy: the husband is the father of all children conceived in wedlock.

Out of wedlock, paternity is usually established by affidavit. At birth, or shortly afterward, the parents can sign an Affidavit of Parentage stating that they are the parents. If the alleged father thinks the kid isn’t his, he can instead ask the local family court to help establish paternity.

What Happens in a Paternity Action?

Paternity actions are processed in family court, where the judge will hear the parties out and order genetic testing (which the alleged parents will have to pay for).

The judge also considers the best interests of the child. Even if genetic testing proves the alleged father is not the biological father, the judge can refuse to revoke paternity if they believe it will harm the child.

To determine the child’s best interests, the judge looks at the child’s age, the existing relationship between the alleged father and the child, the availability of the biological father, the amount of time the alleged father has known he’s not the biological father, and anything else the judge decides is important.

How Do I Start a Paternity Action As an Acknowledged Father?

Start by filing a motion or complaint with the court asking it to revoke paternity. You can only do this before the child’s third birthday or within one year of signing the Affidavit of Parentage, whichever is later.

Along with your complaint, you’ll need an affidavit claiming one of the following:

  1. Mistake of fact (e.g. “I misjudged the time of conception”).
  2. New evidence (“another man texted me claiming he’s the father”).
  3. Fraud (“the mother fudged a home DNA test”).
  4. Misrepresentation (“the mother thought I was the father and told me so, but now she realizes she was wrong”).
  5. Duress (“I signed the document at gunpoint”).
  6. Misconduct (“I was blackmailed by the Russian mafia”).

If the judge thinks the affidavit is sufficient, they’ll order genetic testing.

See the Revocation of Paternity Act, specifically MCL 722.1437, for the statutory language.

How Do I Start a Paternity Action As a Presumed Father?

As a presumed father, you can file a motion or complaint to revoke paternity before the child’s third birthday or during a proceeding for divorce or separate maintenance. The statute also requires that the motion be brought “for the purpose of establishing the child’s paternity,” MCL 722.1441(2). Nobody knows what that means, not even the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Michigan legislature, as I often say, is not smart.

What Happens if I’m Not the Father?

You lose all rights and responsibilities of parenthood. That means you don’t have to pay child support or do anything else to help raise the child. It also means you have no rights to parent, visit, or interact with the child.

That All Sounds Complicated!

It is! Many people hire lawyers to help them handle the process. If you don’t want to do that, Michigan Legal Help is an excellent online resource. They have fillable forms and document preparation programs that can help you create the court papers you need. You can also contact your local legal aid office.

This article is meant for informational purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney before making any important legal decisions.