What is the Prosecutor’s role in establishing paternity in Michigan?
After a referral from the Clare County office of the Michigan Department of Human Services (“DHS”) [formerly known as the Family Independence Agency, or FIA, and before that the Department of Social Services, or DSS], the Prosecuting Attorney’s office interviews the custodial parent and files a complaint in Circuit Court. The non-custodial parent is served with a copy of the complaint, and notice of a hearing date in Circuit Court. The Prosecuting Attorney’s office schedules court appearances and arranges for DNA testing or buccal swabs from the parties. Finally, if paternity is established, the Prosecuting Attorney will prepare the Order for Paternity that is entered in the Circuit Court’s Family Division.
Who do I contact at the Clare County Prosecutor’s office?
Our Paternity and Child Support Specialist, Annette, please call at 989-539-9831, menu option 5
What is paternity?
Paternity means “fatherhood”. The term “establishing paternity” means making the biological father of a child born out of wedlock the legal father as well.
Why is it important to establish paternity?
The parents and the child have the right to have a parent-child relationship. Establishing paternity gives a child born outside of marriage the same legal rights as a child born to married parents. Other reasons include:
- Identity: It is important to know who we are. Children who know both parents develop a sense of “belonging”. Children may also benefit by knowing their family’s biological, cultural, and medical history.
- Money: The law requires both parents to support their children, even if the pregnancy was unplanned. Children supported by just one parent often do not have enough money for their needs.
- Benefits: The child has the right to its parents’ benefits (social security, insurance, inheritance, veterans’, etc.).
- Medical: The child may need a complete medical history from the families of both parents, including inherited health problems.
How is legal paternity established?
- If the mother is married when the baby is born, her husband is considered by law to be the father, unless a court says otherwise.
- If the mother has been divorced or widowed for less than ten months, her husband at the time of conception is considered by law to be the father.
- If the mother is married at the time of conception or birth, but her husband is not the biological father of the child, a voluntary Affidavit of Parentage is not allowed unless a court has already determined that the husband is not the biological father.
- If the mother is not married at the time of conception or birth, paternity can be established by (i) both parents signing a voluntary Affidavit of Parentage that is filed with the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Office of the State Registrar, or (ii) a judge can declare that a man is the legal father after a hearing or default.
How do I start a paternity case?
In many cases, when the custodial parent or a child’s legal guardian receives state assistance for the child (e.g., birthing expenses, medicaid, food stamps, etc.), the Department of Human Services will send a referral to us to establish paternity and a support order, even if the custodial parent has not requested child support. The support money is used to reimburse the state for the coverage and services it spends on the child.
You must first contact the Michigan Department of Human Services’ Support Specialist at (866) 540-0008 to request or apply for services provided by our office. The Support Specialist will assist you with the application. If necessary, they will attempt to locate the absent parent for you. Your case will then be referred to the Family Support Division in the Prosecutor’s Office and a case will be opened.
After your case is opened, you will be mailed an appointment letter and a questionnaire. You will be asked to fill out all the information requested and bring it to the office on your appointment day. The information will be used to file a lawsuit against the absent parent so it is very important that all information supplied is complete and correct. A complaint will be prepared and your case will be filed with the court.
What happens with the absent parent?
Once the support order case is filed, our office may schedule an appointment with the absent parent in our office. The case issues will be explained. A final Order, resolving the case by consent, might be signed at that time.
If the absent parent lives far away or out of state, we will send them notice of the case by certified mail. They may then contact us by telephone or mail. At times, it is necessary to arrange for papers to be served by an outside agency if the absent parent does not respond. Once the papers are served on the absent parent, the other party has a little less than a month to respond. If not, we will ask the Judge to enter a “default order” against the parent to establish paternity and/or child support. Payments will then be collected and obligations enforced by the Friend of the Court (FOC).
How can the father voluntarily acknowledge paternity?
Both parents must sign papers acknowledging paternity. The Affidavit of Parentage must be notarized and filed with the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Office of the State Registrar. Before signing the form in the presence of a notary public, the father must provide pictured identification and his social security number (plus other identification, if necessary).
Can the Affidavit of Parentage be filed by mail?
Yes. The completed Affidavit of Parentage form can be mailed to:
Central Paternity Registry
Vital Records & Health Data Development
Michigan Department of Community Health
P.O. Box 30691
3423 North M.L. King Blvd.
Lansing, MI 48909
Is there a fee for filing the Affidavit of Parentage?
No. However, certified copies of the Affidavit of Parentage are available from the Central Registry for $13.00 (additional copies are $4.00 each).
What if the father refuses to acknowledge paternity?
The mother (or DHS), if the child is receiving public assistance such as Aid to Dependent Children) may bring a paternity suit to have the matter resolved in court. The alleged father is entitled to a hearing in Circuit Court to prove whether he is the father. [NOTE: DHS used to be called the Family Independence Agency, or “FIA”, and before that was called the Department of Social Services, or “DSS”.]
What if the mother is not sure who her child’s father is?
The mother should call a DHS Support Specialist, toll-free at (866) 540-0008, who will help her to identify and locate (if necessary) the father free of charge. The mother does not have to be on public assistance to seek help from a DHS Support Specialist.
When is a DNA/blood test necessary? How is a paternity DNA/blood test done?
A DNA/blood test is needed when the alleged father denies or questions paternity. If blood testing is ordered by the Circuit Court, the mother, child and alleged father will be scheduled for a joint blood drawing in the area. (In Clare County, most cases do not involve the taking of actual blood samples. Rather, painless Q-Tip®-like swabs are rubbed inside the mouth, which painlessly captures skin cells containing DNA.) The samples are taken from the mother, child and alleged father and are tested at a laboratory. The tests compare many different and complex details of the child’s blood with similar details in the mother’s and alleged father’s blood.
What does paternity blood testing show?
The tests can accurately show that a man is not the father of the child, or a percentage of likelihood that he is the father (e.g., 99.48% probability). If the results show that the alleged father is not the biological father, the case is dismissed. Because of its accuracy, the DNA/blood test result generally settles the issue, so contested paternity trials are rare.
Who pays for the DNA/blood tests?
The court will decide who pays. In many case, the alleged father is ordered to pay.
Can the parents do private DNA testing?
Yes. If a private attorney files a paternity case and wants to arrange DNA testing in our area, arrangements can be made by the private attorney.
What happens if the mother or father is not 18?
In Michigan, the mother’s or father’s age is irrelevant.
How long after the child is born can paternity be established?
Both Michigan and federal laws permit paternity actions to be started anytime before the child reaches the age of 18. But, you should not wait to establish paternity. Your child has the right to expect regular and continued emotional and financial support from both parents. Give your child the best possible chance in life by getting paternity established now!
When can the father’s name be put on the birth certificate?
If the mother is married, her husband’s name will be recorded on the birth certificate. In other circumstances:
- if the mother has been divorced or widowed for less than ten months, her husband at the time of conception will be named on the birth certificate, or
- if the mother was not married at the time of conception or birth, the father’s name can be placed on the birth certificate if an Affidavit of Parentage has been signed and notarized.
Birth certificates are not automatically changed when an Affidavit of Parentage is filed, unless the change is made at the birth hospital before the birth has been registered. Changes to registered birth records can be requested based upon a properly completed Affidavit of Parentage, but the birth record correction must be requested on an Application to Correct a Certificate of Birth. These forms are available at the County Clerk’s office or the Office of the State Registrar. A birth certificate can be changed to reflect the father listed on this Affidavit if no other man is recorded on the birth certificate as the child’s father. Should a conflict exist, a court determination of paternity may become necessary.
If the parents decide to voluntarily acknowledge paternity, what other steps must be taken?
Beside filing the notarized Affidavit of Parentage with the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Office of the State Registrar, the parents should try to agree on issues of child support, parenting time (“visitation”) and custody. If the parents cannot agree, then they must get a court order.
What is a “support order”?
A support order means any order entered by the Circuit Court which requires the payment of money for child support, spousal support (alimony), medical, dental and other health care expenses, child care expenses, and educational expenses.
What is in a support order?
The final court Order will include a child support obligation, to be paid by income withholding (usually expressed in “$____/month”), a child care contribution, responsibility for medical insurance or uninsured medical expenses, the responsibility to report certain changes in circumstances or coverage to the Friend of the Court, reimbursement for pregnancy and/or childbirth expenses and, if the parties agree, a provision for parenting time.
How do I get a court order for child support?
A petition requesting an Order of Support must be filed in the Circuit Court. If both parties (and the Judge) agree on the amount, an order can be quickly entered. If the parties cannot agree, you can consult with a private lawyer, or contact the Department of Human Services to talk to a Support Specialist for free help. (You do not have to be on public assistance to seek help from the Support Specialist.) The DHS can refer a support case to the Prosecuting Attorney, who can file an action in Circuit Court under the Family Support Act.
Department of Human Services
Office of Child Support Operations – Lansing
P.O. Box 30750
Lansing, MI 48909-8250
(866) 540-0008 (toll free number)
Department of Human Services
Office of Child Support Operations – Southeast
Detroit, MI 48202-2991
(866) 661-0005 (toll free number)
Contact one of these locations to inquire about child support services (i.e., establishing paternity, child support orders, etc). DHS no longer has contact persons in their local county offices.
Once the support order has been entered, if the parents get back together and decide to end the family support order, they must contact their private lawyer or the Friend of the Court to stop the support order. It is not sufficient to just notify a DHS case worker.
How is child support determined?
Child support is set by a formula in the Michigan Child Support Guidelines. (You may want to download the Michigan Child Support Guidelines Manual.) This formula considers both parents’ income, the number of children and their custodial arrangements, other child support payments, etc. (But every-day financial responsibilities like rent/mortgages, utilities, credit card debts, etc. are not factored in.) The baby’s medical costs may also be included in the child support order. You may get a copy of the Michigan Child Support Guidelines by contacting:
Department of Management and Budget
Office Services Division / Publications Section
7461 Crowner Drive
Lansing, MI 48913
Telephone: (517) 322-1899
Will the Prosecutor help me collect child support?
No. The Friend of the Court is responsible for enforcing payment orders and collecting delinquencies (although you may also hire a private attorney to file an enforcement action). Child support is generally collected through income-withholding from the parent’s paycheck. If the person is self- or un-employed, payment must be made personally.
What if the parent responsible for paying lives outside Michigan?
We can file a case for paternity and/or child support even if the absent parent lives in another state. In some cases, when that party is a former Michigan resident or other factors exist, we may still be able to file a case in our county.
If there are not sufficient ties to the state of Michigan, an action is filed under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). The papers are prepared in our office, filed with our court and forwarded to the state where the absent parent resides. The final court Order must be obtained in the other state. Although we process interstate cases right away, we cannot control the time it takes another state to obtain an Order. We will monitor the other state’s efforts on a regular basis and contact you if additional information is required.
The parent responsible for paying support has stopped paying. What can be done?
The Friend of the Court is responsible for enforcing payment orders and collecting delinquencies (although you may also hire a private attorney to file an enforcement action). There are several options: income withholding orders, show cause hearings (civil contempt hearings held with the Judge who issued the support order), tax refund intercepts, and liens on the payor’s property are the most common methods used.
NOTE: Visitation and support orders are separate orders of the Court, with separate enforcement procedures. If you are not being paid the support monies to which you believe you are entitled, you may not withhold parenting time (“visitation”) from the delinquent parent.
The parent responsible for paying support has moved to another state. What do I do?
The parent responsible for paying child support must continue to pay support through the Friend of the Court, even if he or she leaves the State of Michigan. If child support payments stop, the parent who is owed the money has several options:
- Contact a private lawyer or the Department of Human Services to request an action under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA); a UIFSA order establishes a support order in the state where the non-custodial parent lives. Bring copies of all court orders involving the parents, plus the full name, date of birth, social security number, and last known address of the person who owes support money. The DHS will send a referral to the Prosecuting Attorney to start a UIFSA action. If the missing parent’s whereabouts are unknown, the DHS or the Prosecuting Attorney may be able to help find him or her. Once the state in which the non-custodial parent lives enters its support order, authorities in that state are responsible for its enforcement. Each state has control within its own borders, and a support order established in the other state under UIFSA does not affect the amount owed under the Michigan order. A delinquent payor who returns to Michigan can be brought before a Michigan court for failure to pay under the Michigan order.
- Register the Michigan order in the other state where the paying parent lives. (The Friend of the Court or a private lawyer can help do this.) Once registered, it becomes an order of that state’s court, and is enforced by that other state. [NOTE: In some states, registering the support order requires registering the custody and visitation orders, which will give the other state’s court the power to change the terms of the support, custody or visitation orders, if asked.]
- Request the Friend of the Court to arrange for the Michigan court to send an interstate income withholding order, if the name and address of the payer’s source of income are known. The FOC can then begin an interstate income withholding action.
CUSTODY & PARENTING TIME
Are there different kinds of custody?
Yes. The most common types of custody are Joint Custody [where the child lives with one parent part of the time and with the other parent part of the time and/or parents both share in making decisions on important issues dealing with the child] and Sole Custody [where the child lives with one parent and that parent is responsible for making decisions on important issues dealing with the child].
What is the Prosecutor’s role in issues of custody and parenting time (“visitation”)?
After a case is filed in Circuit Court and a temporary support order is signed by the Judge, the Prosecuting Attorney’s office will refer the matter to the Friend of the Court’s office for a formal recommendation on child support, and parenting time (“visitation”). The Prosecuting Attorney does not appear in court on custody or parenting time (“visitation”) issues or disputes. If you need help because you are being denied parenting time, you may contact the Friend of the Court for assistance once a judgment has been issued by a Circuit Court Judge, or you may seek the assistance of a private attorney who specializes in family law.
If you believe that the other parent has “kidnapped” your child, contact the police. They will conduct an investigation and possibly refer the case to the Prosecuting Attorney to decide whether a crime has occurred requiring prosecution.
How do I get an order for custody?
A petition must be filed requesting the court to grant you custody of your child(ren). If both parties agree and sign an agreement (called a Stipulation and Consent Agreement), that will be entered as a custody order (if the Judge approves the terms, too).
How do I change an existing custody order?
A custody order can be changed by filing a petition with the Circuit Court to modify the custody order — or the parents can sign a written agreement, which the Judge can approve and enter. This process takes place at the Friend of the Court’s office, not with the Prosecuting Attorney’s office.
We can’t agree on custody issues. Can the Court help us reach an agreement?
The Friend of the Court will provide domestic relations “mediation” to help resolve disagreements over the terms of custody. Mediation is a voluntary process where a neutral third party assists in settling disputes.
If the parties cannot agree on the terms of custody — or if mediation does not resolve disputes — the FOC will conduct an investigation and file a written report and recommendation with the Circuit Court based on factors listed in the Michigan Child Custody Act. The parents will get copies of the report and recommendation. A court hearing will follow before the Judge decides what to do about custody.
Do I need an attorney to get a custody order?
You do not have to have an attorney in order to file for a custody order, but it is a good idea because there are many complicated legal issues involved. Neither the Prosecuting Attorney nor the Friend of the Court can act as your legal counsel, or file a custody petition for you.
How do I get an order for parenting time (“visitation”)?
File a petition requesting that the court grant you visitation time with your child(ren). If both parties (and the Judge) agree and sign an agreement, that will be entered as a visitation order. A visitation order can be changed by filing a petition to modify the order — or the parents can sign a written agreement, which the Judge can approve and enter. The Friend of the Court will provide domestic relations “mediation” to help resolve disagreements over the terms of parenting time.
If the parties cannot agree on the terms of parenting time — or if mediation does not resolve disputes — the Friend of the Court will conduct an investigation and file a written report and recommendation with the Circuit Court, based on factors listed in the Michigan Child Custody Act. The parents will get copies of the report and recommendation. A court hearing will follow before the Judge decides what to do about custody.
The Child Custody Act states that visitation shall be granted in accordance with the “best interests of the children”. A child has a right to parenting time with the non-custodial parent unless the Judge rules by clear and convincing evidence that the visitation would endanger the child’s physical, mental or emotional health.
I am being denied visitation. What can be done?
First, contact your attorney (if you hired one to assist you getting the custody order). Otherwise, file a written complaint with your county’s Friend of the Court, requesting that the FOC take action to enforce the order. Include specific facts, dates, times, etc., and the reasons given for the alleged denial of visitation. If the Friend of the Court has reason to believe that the Parenting Time order has been violated, the office may (1) meet with the parties to try to resolve the disagreements, (2) refer the dispute to a mediator, (3) apply the office’s local make-up visitation policy, (4) begin a civil contempt proceeding with the Court by filing a petition for a show cause order, and/or (5) petition the Court to change the existing Parenting Time order.
Does the Prosecuting Attorney or the Friend of the Court have a responsibility to investigate alleged abuse and/or neglect of a child?
Allegations of child abuse or neglect should be reported to the Protective Services unit of your county’s Department of Human Services (formerly known as the Family Independence Agency, or FIA).
If the DHS investigation determines that abuse or neglect has occurred, the Prosecuting Attorney may be asked to assist DHS in filing a neglect petition in the Family Division of Circuit Court. The Friend of the Court must conduct an investigation when a party files a visitation or custody petition; allegations of abuse or neglect should be communicated to the Friend of the Court during this investigation.
FRIEND OF THE COURT
What is the Friend of the Court?
The Friend of the Court is a division of the Circuit Court; there is at least one office for each County. The Friend of the Court is not a division of the Prosecuting Attorney’s office. The Friend of the Court Act (1982 PA 294) makes the office responsible for:
- investigating, reporting and making recommendations to the Circuit Court on custody, parenting time (“visitation”) and the amount of child support
- providing mediation sessions to resolve child custody and parenting time disagreements
- collecting, recording and sending out all support payments ordered by the Court
- initiating enforcement of all custody, support and parenting time (“visitation”) orders entered by the Court
Where do I contact the Clare County Friend of the Court?
Clare County Courthouse
225 W. Main Street
Harrison, Michigan 48625