According to data collected by the Pew Research Center, over 46 percent of children nationwide were living in an arrangement other than the “traditional” family structure – defined as two parents, both of whom were in their first marriage. Consequently, approximately 34 percent of children are living in homes with a single parent, while 4 percent of children live in homes with both parents who are unmarried but cohabitating.
What does this mean from a legal custody perspective? As a foundational principle, when a child is born “in wedlock,” or to a woman who is married at the time of birth, the woman's spouse is automatically deemed the father or co-parent of the child. However, for the growing sect of children born to a mother who is not married, legal paternity must be established another way.
In Michigan, paternity may be established one of several ways. First, the presumed father of the child may sign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, which is an official notarized form stating that the man accepts paternal and parental duties and obligations for the child. Secondly, the mother or child (through counsel) may petition a court to commence paternity proceedings, which would ultimately result in genetic testing ordered for the alleged father.
Once paternity is established, both parents enjoy legal custody of the child, which allows the parents to make decisions concerning education, medical treatment, religious upbringing and so forth. With regard to the physical placement of the child, the parties may agree that the child should spend the majority of his/her time at the home of one parent, with visitation on weekends and holidays with the other parent.
Sometimes, however, reaching a mutual agreement out of court is not possible for co-parents, and becomes necessary to file for custody and/or parenting time with a court of competent jurisdiction. This means that one or both parents may file a petition for custody against the other, which must set forth allegations why the petitioning parent should be awarded sole custody. If the parents cannot agree to an arrangement, the court will set a date for a hearing, at which point the parties must prepare to show the court why the proposed custody arrangement would be in the child's best interests.
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If you would like to speak to an experienced attorney about your child custody issue, please contact our office today: 248.608.4123