MI May Improve Father’s Rights, but Only Slightly

Michigan family law may be poised to take one very small step in the right direction, led by dad Daniel Quinn.
Michigan family law may be poised to take one very small step in the right direction, led by dad Daniel Quinn.  Here’s one article about the case that gives a pretty good idea of the archaic nature of much family law (MLive, 9/17/11).

Daniel Quinn met Candace Beckwith six years ago at an Applebee’s restaurant.  They hit it off, dated and eventually she became pregnant with his child.  Their daughter Maeleigh was born and Quinn moved Beckwith, her two older children and Maeleigh in with him at his home in Fenton, Michigan.

There was just one problem; Beckwith was married to a drug dealer, Adam Beckwith, who lived in Ohio.  Still, all went well for a couple of years, at which time Candace sent her older daughters to live with Adam.  Not long afterward, she took Maeleigh to live with Adam as well.  Eventually, Adam used Maeleigh to assist him in his drug-trafficking activities.  He’s now in prison.

Maeleigh is now in foster care in Ohio.  Although no article on the case explains just how Candace came to lose custody of her, my guess is that it had something to do with allowing her husband to use a five-year-old child in his drug-trafficking operation.  Whatever the reason, Daniel Quinn thinks his daughter should be with him, not some stranger.

“When she was born my life changed, it did a complete 180,’ said Quinn. “She bonded with myself, her grandparents, my whole family. Nothing has been the same every since she was taken. Not just my life but my family”s life.’

Quinn finds himself the undisputed biological father (he has DNA test results to prove it) of a child that Michigan law considers to be a stranger to him.  He’s not only the biological dad, he’s the hands-on father too.  For the first years of her life, he did everything a father should do for his daughter.  At one court hearing Maeleigh was carried out of the courtroom crying “Daddy, daddy” while reaching toward Quinn.

But under Michigan law, Quinn has no standing to even address the matter to a court.  He’s prohibited from filing a paternity action because the child was born to a woman who was married at the time of it’s birth.  Therefore, under Michigan law, the child is the husband’s and the biological father, regardless of how responsible and loving, has no power to even ask a court to rule otherwise.

Now, Quinn’s attorney tried to pursue another route to getting him parental rights, but that too failed due to the tried and true method of placing a father’s rights in a mother’s hands.  This is from the appellate court decisions upholding the trial court’s denial of Quinn’s request for a paternity hearing.

Defendant also argues that the complaint should not have been dismissed because he is afforded standing under the Child Custody Act, MCL 722.23. Although plaintiff (Candace) as a parent of the child is a proper party under the Child Custody Act, she did not bring her action under the Child Custody Act and made no references to this act in her complaint…

A man is a parent under the Child Custody Act only if (1) he is presumed to be a parent by law because the child was born in wedlock, (2) there has been a prior court determination that he is the parent of a child born out of wedlock, or (3) he has acknowledged parenthood of a child born out of wedlock.

Translation:  A mother seeking to thwart the rights of a biological father to whom she’s not married simply doesn’t bring a suit under the Child Custody Act.  A biological father who’s not married to the mother of his child may not bring such a suit if she’s married to someone else.

By contrast, if she wants to get child support from the biological dad or wants him to have some form of custody, she does file suit under the Child Custody Act.

Result:  She can grant or deny rights to the biological father of her child as long as she’s married to another man.  His rights are in her hands.

Now fortunately, Quinn has been such an upstanding father and both the Beckwiths so clearly unqualified to be parents, the state legislature has taken note and seems poised to change the law.

Legislation designed to update Michigan”s outdated paternity act was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, chair of the panel.

Senate Bill 256 would allow a possible biological father to file a petition to determine paternity under certain circumstances. Current state law does not give a possible biological father legal standing to file a paternity action to show he may be the biological father of a child born to a married woman.

Unfortunately, the bill wouldn’t go nearly far enough to protect fathers in Quinn’s situation.

The bill would allow biological fathers to claim parental rights within a year of their child”s birth if the mother is married at any time from conception to the birth of a child and her husband denies paternity, or if a relationship is established between the biological father and the child. The measure would also give judges the ability to rule what is best for the child on a case-by-case basis.

That’s not much of a step forward.  The bill still allows the biological father’s parental rights to be totally controlled by the mother and, in a particularly strange twist, by her husband.  First, if the mother manages for a year to hide the pregnancy or to convince the biological dad that the child isn’t his, then he gets no relief from the new law.  Second, if the husband doesn’t deny paternity, the biological dad can also be out of luck.

So the bill, if passed, would help in Quinn’s unique situation, but few biological fathers are.

I hope the bill passes and that Quinn and his daughter Maeleigh are finally reunited.  But no one should deceive themselves about the true impact of this bill on fathers’ rights.  It’ll be negligible at best.

Meanwhile, another state legislature proves that the concept of equality between mothers and fathers is alien to it.

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