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Michigan Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

When a married, opposite-sex couple has a child, the mother's spouse is presumed to be the father. In Michigan, this principle is extended to married same-sex couples as well under the state's Equitable Parent Doctrine (see Paternity Suit FAQs for a general explanation). But when parents are unmarried, establishing child custody/visitation and determining parental rights can get complicated, especially when there are disagreements over parentage. The following information focuses on Michigan's child custody laws for unmarried parents.

Michigan Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents: The Basics

Fully understanding custody laws for unmarried parents and the basics of parental rights in Michigan typically requires legal training. Because legal statutes can be confusing, we've provided the following legalese-free summary of Michigan's child custody laws as they pertain to unmarried parents below.


Michigan Compiled Laws

How Custody is Determined in Michigan

If parents are able to agree on child custody and visitation arrangements, the courts will approve the plan as long as it supports the best interests of the child. Otherwise, the court will make this determination:

  • The custody order will determine which parent(s) will live with the child (physical custody) and which parent(s) will make important decisions for the child (legal custody);
  • Sole custody means only one parent has custody, joint custody means that the parents share custody;
  • Parenting time (visitation) is generally applied to the parent who doesn't have physical custody;
  • The custody case concludes when the court issues a custody order.

Parental Rights in Michigan

  • Unmarried fathers have the right to claim paternity (Notice of Intent to Claim Paternity) before or after a child is born.
  • Unmarried fathers have no right to support or visitation if the mother was married during the birth of the child (must mutually establish paternity first).
  • Unmarried fathers may obtain possession of their child and/or gain legal custody through adoption or court order.
  • Primary custody is presumed to be with the unmarried mother until the biological father obtains a court order of custody rights.

Establishing Paternity in Michigan

When a child's parents aren't married to each other, it is necessary to establish paternity prior to filing for child custody.

Parents were never married:

  • Must file an Affidavit of Parentage either at the time of the child's birth or at any time after (this is voluntary) in order to claim custody.
  • If filed after leaving the hospital (or at any time after birth), the birth certificate will not be automatically changed after the affidavit is filed; for that, you will also need to complete an Application to Add a Father on a Michigan Birth Record.

Mother is married to someone other than the father:

  • The mother's husband is the presumptive legal father of the child; to change this status, the mother, her husband, or the biological father must first get a court order revoking the husband's paternity.
  • To revoke the husband's paternity, the petitioner (parent seeking the action) must file an Affidavit to Revoke Acknowledgement of Parentage.

Disputed paternity:

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Research the Law

Michigan Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents: Related Resources

Get Professional Legal Help With Your Michigan Custody Case

Families come in all shapes and sizes, but raising a child as a single parent is generally quite challenging. If you're working out child custody arrangements with your child's other parent, or have concerns about your parental rights, you'll likely need professional help. Contact a Michigan family law attorney near you for some peace of mind.

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