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It's not just biology. Paternity is a legal thing.

Legally speaking, the word "paternity" denotes the identity of a child's legal father. It also concerns the associated legal rights and responsibilities of the legal father to a particular child. In most states, paternity is established by confirming that the biological father of a child born outside a marriage is the legal father.

To make assertions in child custody or visitation disputes, a man must be deemed the legal father of a child. That is why being a biological dad, alone, is sometimes not enough. Unless specific papers were filled out upon the child's birth, a man may not technically be the child's father in legal terms.

How is paternity established in Michigan?

If a man is not married to the child's mother, paternity can be confirmed voluntarily. Otherwise, a judge can declare an individual as the legal father of a particular child.

Voluntary confirmation of paternity

In order to voluntarily establish paternity, the child's mother and father need to sign something called an Affidavit of Parentage. This must be witnessed and notarized. Frequently, parents sign the form in the hospital. The affidavit should then be filed with the Department of Community Health. After filing, the father is automatically deemed the child's legal father.

Not all medical clinics facilitate the paternity process. Therefore, even if one signs "something" in the hospital, paternity may not be established. It's very important to assert rights as soon as possible. Fathers should make sure that paternity is established voluntarily via the Affidavit of Parentage form.

Involuntary establishment of paternity

When paternity is contested, the establishment of such is involuntary. In these cases, paternity is confirmed via a court proceeding where the court issues an "order of filiation." This is essentially a paternity proceeding. This action can be filed by either parent.

In such cases, the petitioner (the mother or father asserting paternity) must initiate a complaint in the county in which the child or mother lives. DNA or genetic testing might be requested in some disputes. Once paternity is determined by the court, an order will be issued on whether paternity has been established.

More than just the birth certificate

It is important to note that establishing paternity is beyond the initial act of listing a man's name on a child's birth certificate. Legal rights for the mother, child and father are dependent on the paternity determination. However, even when paternity is established voluntarily, initial custody is granted to the mother. After paternity is established, the father has the right to pursue custody or visitation with the child.

The birth of your child might seem like a blur today, and that is okay. However, don't let it be so blurry that confusion exists as to whether you are the legal father of your child. To learn more about your rights, speak with a family law attorney.

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