Establishing Paternity

Importance of establishing paternity

Paternity means "fatherhood". The parents and the child have the right to have a parent-child relationship. Establishing paternity gives a child born outside of marriage the same legal rights as a child born to married parents. Other reasons include:

  • Identity and Family Ties: It is important to know who we are. Children who know both parents develop a sense of "belonging." Children may also benefit from knowing their family's biological, cultural, and medical history.
  • Money: The law requires both parents to support their children, even if the pregnancy was unplanned. Children supported by just one parent often do not have enough money for their needs. Parents can share the costs needed for the child, even if they do not live together.
  • Benefits: The child has the right to its parents' benefits (social security, insurance, pension, inheritance, veterans' benefits, etc.).
  • Medical: The child may need a complete medical history from the families of both parents, including inherited health problems.

A child can have only one legal father. If the mother is married at the time of conception or birth but her husband is not the biological father of the child, a voluntary Affidavit of Parentage is not allowed to make the non-husband the child's legal father unless a court has previously determined in a court order that the husband is not the biological father.

How to establish paternity

Married Parents: If the mother is married when the baby is born or when the mother became pregnant, her husband is automatically considered by law to be the father unless a court says otherwise. If the mother has been divorced or widowed for less than ten months, her husband at the time of conception is considered by law to be the father.

Unmarried Parents: Parents who are not married to each other when the child was conceived or born must take action to establish paternity. 

  • AOP: Paternity can be established by both parents signing a voluntary Affidavit of Parentage (PDF) that is filed with the state. It must be signed under oath with a notary public, and the father must present the notary with pictured identification and his social security number (plus other identification, if necessary). The signed AOP can be mailed to: Central Paternity Registry, Division of Vital Records and Health Statistics, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, PO Box 30691, Lansing, MI 48909. There is no fee to file an AOP, but a fee is charged to receive certified copies from the state after it is filed.
  • Paternity lawsuit: A judge can declare through a court proceeding that a man is the legal father after a hearing, or by default. Paternity actions may be started anytime before the child reaches the age of 18. Don't wait to establish paternity because your child has the right to expect regular and continued emotional and financial support from both parents. Give your child the best possible chance in life by getting paternity established now!

In many cases, when the custodial parent or a child's legal guardian receives state assistance for the child (medicaid, food assistance, etc.), the Department of Health and Human Services will send a referral to us to establish paternity and a support order even if the custodial parent has not requested child support. The support money is used to reimburse the state for the coverage and services it spends on the child. The custodial parent must fill out and submit the IV-D Child Support Services Application/Referral form (PDF). It can be submitted by mail to: Michigan Office of Child Support, Central Functions Unit, P.O. Box 30744, Lansing, MI 48909.

You can also use the DHHS MiChildSupport website portal to apply for child support. Once your application has been properly filed, your case will be referred to the Prosecutor's Office's Family Support Division and a case will be opened. After your case is opened, an appointment letter will be mailed. You will likely be asked to bring in some important documents (pay stubs, driver's license, child's birth certificate) on your appointment day, and information about who the biological father may be. The information will be used to file a lawsuit against the absent parent so it is very important that all requested documents are brought to this initial meeting. A complaint will be prepared and your case will be filed with the court. If possible, we will meet with the absent parent, court papers will be given to him and case issues will be explained. Sometimes, he will agree to everything and a Consent Judgment order can be signed at that time. If the absent parent lives far away or out of state, we will send them notice of the case by certified mail. They may then contact us by telephone or mail. At times, it is necessary to arrange for papers to be served by an outside agency if the absent parent does not respond.

Once the court papers are served on the absent parent, he has a little less than a month to respond in writing to the facts alleged in the Complaint. If he does not, a hearing will be scheduled and we will ask the Judge to enter a "default order" against the parent to establish paternity and/or child support. The mother should attend this hearing. After the court order is entered, payments will be collected and obligations enforced by the Friend of the Court (FOC).

If the mother fails to cooperate with this process (including the filing of a paternity Complaint in court, attending court hearings, participating in DNA sampling with her child) her public assistance benefits could be affected.

Parent's Age is Irrelevant: The age of the mother or father does not affect the paternity or child support process. A minor under age 18 can be established as the legal father and ordered to pay child support.

DNA testing

A DNA test is needed when the alleged father denies or questions paternity. In Eaton County, DNA testing uses a buccal swab, a painless Q-Tip®-like swab that is rubbed inside the mouth to painlessly capture skin cells containing DNA. The samples are taken from the mother, child and alleged father and are tested at a DCC DNA Diagnostic Center. The tests compare many different and complex details of the child's blood with similar details in the mother's and alleged father's blood. 

The tests can accurately show that a man is not the father of the child, or a percentage of likelihood that he is the father (e.g, 99.99% probability). If the results show that the alleged father is not the biological father, the paternity case is dismissed. Because of its accuracy, the DNA test result generally settles the issue, so contested paternity trials are rare. 

The court will decide who pays. In many case, the alleged father is ordered to pay when he is proven to be the biological father. 

If a private attorney files a paternity case, they may arrange for DNA testing. But Michigan law requires that the analysis occur through a certified lab. "At-home" DNA kits, like those that can be purchased at a pharmacy, are not admissible in court.

Challenging or Revoking Paternity

Michigan has created a statutory process through the Revocation of Paternity Act (ROPA) (PDF) for a legal father to challenge his legal paternity. The process depends on how he was established as the legal father.

  • Presumed Father (married to the mother at the time of conception or birth)
  • Acknowledged Father (affirmatively held himself out to be the child's father by executing an acknowledgment of parentage)
  • Genetic Father (determined to be the father through genetic testing)
  • Affiliated Father (determined to be the father through a prior court order)
  • Alleged Father (a man who through his actions could be the father)

The ROPA laws should be carefully reviewed and followed to ensure that time lines and steps in the process are followed. Michigan Legal Help has some useful information, answering a variety of questions in this process.

Adding the Father's name to the birth certificate

If the mother is married, her husband's name will be recorded on the birth certificate. In other circumstances:

  • If the mother has been divorced or widowed for less than ten months, her husband at the time of conception will be named on the birth certificate;
  • If the mother was not married at the time of conception or birth, the father's name can be placed on the birth certificate after an Affidavit of Parentage has been signed and notarized.

Birth certificates are not automatically changed when an Affidavit of Parentage is filed, unless the change is made at the birth hospital and before the birth has been registered. Changes to registered birth records can be requested based on a properly completed Affidavit of Parentage. The birth record correction must be requested on an Application to Correct a Certificate of Birth (PDF). A birth certificate can be changed to reflect the father listed on the Affidavit of Parentage if no other man is recorded on the birth certificate as the child's father. If a conflict exists, a court determination of paternity may become necessary.

Prosecutor's role

After a referral from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Prosecuting Attorney's office interviews the custodial parent and files a complaint in Circuit Court. The non-custodial parent is served with a copy of the complaint, and notice of a hearing date in Circuit Court. The Prosecuting Attorney's office schedules court appearances and arranges for DNA testing or buccal swabs from the parties. Finally, if paternity is established, the Prosecuting Attorney will prepare the Order for Paternity that is entered in the Circuit Court's Family Division, which will also address issues of custody and child support.

Paternity Resources