My then-wife had a baby from another man while we were married and she was in the military with another serviceman. She told me that she put the child in my name so they wouldn’t get in trouble.
Now they want me to pay child support because they are running out of money. Will I have to pay child support for another man’s child?
In Michigan, a man married to a woman at the time she conceives or gives birth to a child is presumed to be the father of that child – and is liable for child support – unless he disestablishes paternity AND is not the child’s equitable father. In other words, he has to show that (1) he is not the biological father and (2) he never acted as the biological father (by providing food, clothing and shelter, consenting to medical treatment, bonding, etc.) This is not as easy as it sounds.
The public policy in Michigan protects children’s presumed legitimacy and sources for support, and it is exceedingly difficult to prove that you are not a father and should not have to pay child support.
First, only certain persons can file a lawsuit to establish the child’s paternity. An unwed mother may. The State may (to collect State assistance). And someone may on behalf of an illegitimate child. But, a man does not have “standing” (the right to bring a lawsuit) to establish paternity for a child if the child’s mother was married at the time of conception or birth. This means, a husband whose wife has cheated on him cannot file a paternity lawsuit to disestablish his presumed status as the child’s father – which sounds like the predicament you are in.
However, the husband may file a divorce complaint and allege that the child born during the marriage is not his child. He must prove this by clear and convincing evidence (usually with a DNA test). In fact, if he does not raise the issue he will be conclusively presumed to be the father after the divorce!
Therefore, a husband may disestablish paternity by filing for divorce and proving that the child born during the marriage is not his child.
But, second, that is only half of the problem. A non-biological father may be responsible for child support if he acted as the child’s father. This is called the “equitable parent” doctrine. For example, a man who knowingly marries a pregnant woman and assumes the status of the child’s father, even though he is not, may be prevented from denying paternity. As another example, a man who raises a child, feeds and clothes and educates a child and otherwise holds himself out as a father and develops a relationship with the child may also be prevented from denying paternity.
If this sounds complex, that is because Michigan paternity law is complex. You should speak to an attorney immediately about your options, if any.
Be advised, although I am licensed to practice law in Michigan, I cannot give you legal advice without reviewing your case in full. Do not rely on this answer as establishing an attorney-client relationship, and contact an attorney immediately for legal advice and case-specific suggestions. Cordell & Cordell does practice in Michigan. Thank you for submitting your question.
Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.