Adultery and the Paternity Act
In 2011, the Michigan Legislature amended [rewrote] the Paternity Act to open the door, slightly, for an unwed biological father who sires a child with a married woman. The bachelor's parenting rights, however, are contingent upon the consent of the mother.
The new paternity laws have given rise to a few cases that have garnered media attention. Fathers that have availed themselves of the new law in order to correct one of the more painful gaps in our tranditional family laws; denying standing to any putative father who's baby-momma was married at the time of birth.
The new paternity leglislation basically thanks the bio-dad for his sperm donation, but does not afford him any substantive parenting rights without the mother's consent. If the bachelor can offer some proof to the family court that he was clueless about the baby momma's marital status, he has standing to bring a claim under the paternity act.
Aaron Grimes filed a case when his relationship blew-up. Grimes conducted a two-year relationship with a woman he knew was married. The couple took trips together, attended family functions, and otherwise held themselves out as a couple. According to Grimes, she never wore her wedding ring.
When the baby was born, the mother had a change of heart according to Grimes; she reconciled with her husband, hired a lawyer, and has dened Grimes any contact with his son.
Father's subsequent paternity cause of action was immediately dismissed by the Wayne County Circuit Court. Dad is considering challenging the provisions of the new paternity act.
Compare Grimes' situation with Daniel Quinn, who, unlike Grimes, was able to claim cluelessness about his baby mamma's marital status; she was [secretly] married to a man doing time in prison. Under the present legislative scheme, the bachelor's knowledge of the marriage is the deciding factor. Unless the alleged father is in the dark, the baby momma is driving the bus.
So the difference goes to the heart of modern adultery. To commit the sin, indeed, the felony, of adultery, one must presumably have the "mens rea"; the proverbial guilty mind. If you do not know if your woman is married, are you nevertheless comitting the sin of adultery in the eyes of God; in the eyes of the law?
This is what the Michigan legislature has recently contended with; an imperfect piece of legislation, to be sure. We here at the Law Blogger wish that the new act was more direct in advising the court to consider the best interests of the child rather than the relative standing of the parents. Also, the paternity act should first "disestablish" the rights of the baby momma's husband prior to allowing an alleged father to proceed on a paternity claim.
The one-year limitation for a claim to be filed seems quick and too arbitrary; often, an alleged or putative father would have no reason to suspect his baby's momma is married. Closing the door so fast on a bio-dad seems harsh.
Thus, the drama is destined to continue. To men: the best course of action is to be very sure of the marital status of your partner prior to beginning the procreation process. If you are in the position of Mr. Grimes, however, and you know that your partner is married, you need to also know that the current paternity act allows her to drive the bus when the baby comes.
To women: be sure to keep your child's best interests in mind and ask whether it is better in the long-run for your baby to know his or her true paternity.