Establishing Paternity: What Does it Mean?
Some of the most frequent questions we receive as family law attorneys relate to paternity, and it’s not a surprise. 50% of marriages end in divorce after about a decade, and Michigan is a no-fault divorce state.
Since the divorce rate is so high, blended families, also known as “stepfamilies,” are more common than ever. So is cohabitating, or committed couples voluntarily choosing to do things “backwards” by having children before marriage.
According to statistics compiled by Pew Research, the percentage of children living in a home with two married parents is the lowest it has been in decades: 69%, compared to 87% in 1960.
Cultural Changes in the Family Structure
The Pew Research stats reflect a changing America, but it is important to keep in mind what they actually mean. For instance, they don’t necessarily suggest that most children are raised by single mothers or in stepfamilies. Sometimes the child’s biological parents are living together out of wedlock.
If you, like many Michiganders, have had a child with your male partner but you are not married to him, you might be wondering how paternity is established. When it comes to establishing paternity, this complicates things slightly more than if you had your child while already legally married.
Of course, these are complex and nuanced ethical situations to navigate. With the proper legal assistant, a parent with a complicated history can still fight for the ability to share custody with their child.
How Paternity is Established
The technical definition of paternity is “fatherhood,” but legally, this term means something more specific: legal paternity, or the rights and obligation that the father in question has. While it is not uncommon nowadays for children to be born out of wedlock, in Michigan, it does require the assistance of a family law attorney to establish legal paternity.
Paternity can be established in one of two ways: voluntarily or involuntarily. If both parents agree that the father is biological, they can choose to sign an “Affidavit of Parentage” before a notary. This can be done at the hospital when the baby is born, or at a later date for a small fee. On the other hand, involuntary establishment requires a court-ordered “order of filiation,” and possibly genetic testing to prove the father’s DNA matches that of the child.
When both parents are legally married, paternity of the child is presumed to be with the husband. Cohabitating unmarried parents face more hurdles, but navigating the legal system doesn’t need to be overwhelming or intimidating. It’s always wise to enlist the help of a reliable and trusted legal expert in the area of family law.