Children Out of Wedlock - Paternity and Prior Knowledge of Intact Marriage

Case Discussed:

Jonet v. Autio, et al

MiLW No. 08-91810

Michigan Court of Appeals - Unpublished Case

The Michigan Court of Appeals (MCA) affirmed the order of a Michigan trial court denying a petition to revoke the paternity of a child. The evidence presented to the trial court suggested that the Petitioner was aware of an existing marriage between the Respondent/Mother and her husband at the time of conception of a child between the Petitioner/Biological Father and the Respondent/Mother.

The Petitioner/Biological Father sought to establish himself as the legal father of the child. His foreknowledge of the Respondent/Mother's intact marriage proved to be fatal to his case. The intact marriage created a legal presumption that the Respondent's husband was the father of the child in question.

What to take away from this case?

This case re-affirms what Michigan's trial courts have been ruling for years: conception does not automatically create parental rights to unwed biological fathers. In this case, neither the Petitioner/Biological Father, the Respondent/Mother nor the Respondent's husband deny that the Petitioner is the biological father of the child.

Rather, the Respondent/Mother successfully supported her argument that the Petitioner/Biological Father was aware of the Respondents' intact marriage at the time of conception. The trial court found that the Petitioner/Biological Father knew, or should have known, that the Respondent/Mother was still married at the time of conception of their child. Therefore, the Petitioner/Biological Father was prohibited from pursuing his petition under Michigan's Revocation of Paternity Act because he lacks standing to bring suit.

Revocation of Paternity Act (RPA)

MCL 722.1441 - Determination that child born out of wedlock.

(3) If a child has a presumed father, a court may determine that the child is born out of wedlock for the purpose of establishing the child's paternity if an action is filed by an alleged father and any of the following applies:

(a) All of the following apply:

(i) The alleged father did not know or have reason to know that the mother was married at the time of conception.

(ii) The presumed father, the alleged father, and the child's mother at some time mutually and openly acknowledged a biological relationship between the alleged father and the child.

(iii) The action is filed within 3 years after the child's birth. The requirement that an action be filed within 3 years after the child's birth does not apply to an action filed on or before 1 year after the effective date of this act.

(iv) Either the court determines the child's paternity or the child's paternity will be established under the law of this state or another jurisdiction if the child is determined to be born out of wedlock.

The Respondents' intact marriage is what is making the difference in this case. If the Respondent/Mother was unmarried, the Petitioner/Biological Father may have prevailed in a petition to establish paternity. But in the present case, the intact marriage between the Respondent/Mother and her husband created a legal presumption that the Respondent's husband was the father of the child in question. The Petitioner/Biological Father lacked standing to bring suit under the RPA because he failed to meet the burden created by 722.1441(3)(a)(i).

Closing Thoughts

  • If you are an unwed biological father, the specific facts of your paternity case matter greatly.

  • Biological fathers can, and actually are, prevented from obtaining parental rights to their acknowledged children if the child's mother is married to another person and the biological father knew about the marriage at the time of conception.

  • If you have concerns about the paternity of your child and cannot resolve them, consult an attorney. Be prepared to discuss the situation with your attorney in extensive detail.

Full opinion available here, courtesy of Justia.com

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