Most adults can recall the sing-song rhyme our adolescent peers used to tease us with when we experienced our first crush: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Emily with the baby carriage.” The rhyme is completely outdated. A study by the Pew Research Center in 2011 found that about 40 percent of unmarried adults believe that marriage is obsolete (Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families).
While the marriage rate is declining, unmarried cohabitation is on the rise, and almost half of cohabitating households include children. However, the child custody laws have not really caught up to this new trend. Most fathers focus on getting their name on the birth certificate as a means of establishing their parental rights. However, the required paperwork at the hospital (Affidavit of Parentage) to list the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate for a child born to unmarried parents has important legal consequences.
Here are a few things to keep in mind before you sign:
- Waiving Your Right to Genetic Testing. When you sign the Affidavit of Parentage, both parents waive their right to genetic tests to confirm whether the man is the biological father of the child. As a result, if you are uncertain about whether or not you are the father of the child, you should file with the family court to request genetic testing. If the genetic testing establishes parentage, your name can be added to the birth certificate.
- In addition, if you sign the Affidavit of Parentage and later find evidence that you did so in error, your ability to identify the genetic father, transfer responsibility and obligation for support, and to raise the child is significantly limited.
- Initial Custody. The Affidavit of Parentage in Michigan grants initial custody of the child to the mother. As a result, the father does not have any legal rights to custody or parenting time with the child without further court proceedings.
- Because the Affidavit of Parentage in Michigan establishes that the mother has initial custody, she may be able to relocate to another state with little or no court intervention unless the father files a motion to establish his legal rights to custody and parenting time.
Parenting is a privilege, and privileges come with tremendous responsibilities and obligations. Make sure that you understand your legal rights and how to exercise them before the birth of your child. Just because the mother and father are not married does not mean one or both parents should be denied the privileges of parenthood.