Michigan's Paternity Act Revoked to Provide Rights to Putative [Biological] Fathers
Yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder signed Senate Bill 557 and Senate Bill 558 into law, revoking our 1956 Paternity Act to allow claims to be filed by a putative [biological] fathers, even when the mother is a married woman; married, that is, to someone other than the putative father.
The original paternity law, that presumes that a married woman's husband is the father of any child born during a marriage, was considered by many family law practitioners to be a throwback from a lost society; a law [poorly] designed to protect the sanctity of the marriage institution.
The new law, introduced by Senator Steven Bieda of Livonia, was supported by the 2,100 members of the State Bar of Michigan's Family Law Section, among them, yours truly.
Five and a half decades after the original paternity act was passed, the real world came crashing up against that law. Little Maeleigh is now nearly 7-years old and has not been allowed to see her father in over 4-years due to the now-repealed paternity act.
At the time of her birth in 2005, Maeleigh's mother was married, to a convicted drug-dealer. She was separated from her husband, however, and conducted a long-standing and open affair with Daniel Quinn, Maeleigh's biological father. For nearly three years, Quinn was an involved father in his daughter's life, with the trio living as a family unit.
All that changed when Maeleigh's mother reconciled with her felon husband, removing Maeleigh from Quinn's custody, and moved out of Michigan. Quinn's claims of paternity, filed in the Livingston County Circuit Court, were rejected on grounds he lacked legal standing to bring an action because Maeleigh's mother was married at the time of her birth and the husband was irrebutably presumed to be the father.
Quinn is now expected to file a paternity claim under the new law. For his sake, and the sake of his daughter, he may be able to take advantage of his prior filings to come within the scope of the new law.
The new paternity act, however, lays out very specific limited circumstances under which a family court judge can declare a child to be born out of wedlock when the mother is married, and to make paternity findings. The putative father [referred to as an "alleged father" in the act] cannot have knowledge of the mother's married status. There is a three year time limit for the putative father to bring the action to the family court. There are other limitations set forth in the act.
The new paternity act is hailed as "progress" among my colleagues who have seen first-hand, the heart break that is caused by a law that slams the door in the face of a biological father. Senator Bieda's public rationale for sponsoring the new law is that the old law was passed in a simpler time, before DNA paternity testing.
The unspoken inference, however, is that we now live in a relatively more permissive and morally lax era. Don't go thinking that a married woman's children are the issue of her husband. In our post-modern era, you just cannot operate under that assumption.
And what does that say about us...?