The Michigan Court of Appeals recently revisited the question of “What is a father?” in child protective proceedings. Ruling on a case that started in the Wayne County Circuit Court, Family Division, the Court of Appeals affirmed the termination of a putative father’s rights. The case is In re BEL, Minor and can be read here. In this case, the putative father’s rights were taken away after he refused to cooperate with the lower court in establishing paternity.
A putative father is a man alleged to be the biological father of a child. But he is not the legal father without going through a recognized legal process. Those processes include being married to the mother, adoption, a finding by a court (typically involving a DNA test) or signing an Affidavit of Parentage. The BEL court took testimony from the mother that REL was the biological father. That was enough to make him the putative father, but not enough for the court to declare him the child’s parent under the statute. The Court gave REL many chances to sign an Affidavit of Parentage or take a DNA test. He declined to do either. REL then sought the help of the Court of Appeals after his parental rights were terminated.
It seems clear that REL was confused about what it means to be a father in a legal sense. Unfortunately, he did not have an attorney to help him with this. One of the nuances of Michigan Child Protection law is that only a parent has the right to a court-appointed attorney. A putative father does not have that right since he is not recognized as a parent under the law. Therefore, for REL, the mother’s testimony that he was the biological father was not enough. REL needed to become the legal parent by taking the DNA test or signing the Affidavit of Parentage in order to establish his parental rights.
Child Protection Proceedings are full of pitfalls for the unwary. Even criminal defense attorneys and family law attorneys struggle to understand. If you have a case with CPS, you need the help of an aggressive trial attorney who is very familiar with this area of law. Cronkright Law offers free initial consultations to moms and dads seeking to defend their parental rights. Feel free to contact us to discuss your case.