Unmarried Parents and Child Custody: A Family Law FAQ

Unmarried parents often face more child custody issues than married parents, so it’s essential to understand your rights. The entire process can be stressful and challenging, from establishing paternity to determining who has custody.

Here, an experienced family attorney answers a few commonly asked questions about unmarried parents and their child custody rights.

Does an unmarried mother have sole custody of a child?

Until the parents legally establish paternity, an unmarried mother has full legal and physical custody of the child. The mother will sign the birth certificate. Even if the father has established paternity, the mother still has full custody of the child until a custody agreement is signed.

What parental rights does an unmarried father have in Michigan?

Under Michigan law, an unmarried biological father can be granted child custody, though they must establish paternity before being given custody rights.

There are two ways to establish paternity:

  • The parents can establish paternity voluntarily. In this situation, they agree to name the child’s father, and the father can sign an Affidavit of Parentage when the child is born or before their 23rd birthday.
  • One or both parents can ask the local family court to help establish paternity with genetic testing and a court hearing.

After the father establishes paternity, they must petition the court to reach a new custody agreement. Paternity does not give a parent custody. Because of this, the father can only receive custody rights if they obtain a custody order from the court.

Under Michigan law, it’s significantly more difficult for the biological father to prove paternity and be granted custody if the child’s mother is married to another man. In this circumstance, the mother’s husband will be presumed to be the child’s legal father.

Who pays child support when the parents are unmarried?

Regardless of who has custody, both biological parents are required to support the child. The Michigan Child Support Formula determines child support. This formula considers income levels, number of children, education and child care, and health insurance when calculating how much child support is required from each parent.

Can a parent refuse a paternity test in Michigan?

Even if a mother doesn’t want to establish paternity, the father can still request one from the court. The court can mandate a DNA test and require the mother to present the child for the test.

Similarly, the father must submit to the paternity if the other parent requests one from the court. If either parent refuses to participate, the court can hold them in contempt, which is punishable by fines and imprisonment.

Talk to the experienced family law attorneys at JAD Law

As an unmarried parent, having a knowledgeable family attorney is essential during your child custody battle. JAD Law is here to help.  Contact JAD Law today to schedule an appointment.

JAD Law serves several counties across Metro Detroit, Michigan, including Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair, and Wayne counties.