In December of 2014, the Michigan Legislature passed the Genetic Parentage Act and the Summary Support and Paternity Act. The laws won’t take effect until March, but here’s a sneak peek at what to expect.
Both these new laws are designed to make it easier for state and federal public assistance programs to recoup some of their expenses from non-custodial parents. They do not affect the current Child Support Act, Paternity Act, or Revocation of Paternity Act. Instead they give the government “Title IV-D” agencies more tools to work with.
Genetic Parentage Act
If the mother, father, or a child requests services from a Title IV-D agency, but a court has never ruled on who the child’s father is and no one signed an affidavit of paternity (or acknowledgment of parentage), this act streamlines the process for the agency to legally determine paternity.
Under the current system, the prosecutor has to bring an action under the Paternity Act on behalf of the custodial parent (usually the mother). The non-custodial parent is formally served and given an opportunity to respond. This process can take 3-6 months or longer, depending on how busy the courts are and whether the non-custodial parent cooperates. The issues of paternity and support often are delayed by disputes over parenting time.
Under the Genetic Parentage Act, the agency would be able to present genetic test results showing that a man is 99% or more likely to be the father of the child. Then the court shall (meaning automatically) enter a paternity order and grant the mother initial custody until someone files motion to modify that arrangement in court.
Summary Support and Paternity Act
This new law tells the Title IV-D agencies how to go about determining paternity and gives the court the authority to order child support based solely on the agency’s form and an optional genetic test result unless the non-custodial party objects. Here’s how it works:
- Mom or Dad requests public assistance for a child and names someone as the believed father of the child.
- The agency files a form asking the court to establish paternity and sends a copy through the regular mail to the non-custodial parent.
- The parent has 21 days to respond either admitting paternity, asking for genetic testing, or disproving paternity, otherwise it is automatically established.
- If the non-custodial parent doesn’t respond, he or she is served after the fact.
- Then the court may formally establish paternity, order the parent to pay child support (without an investigation into income or ability to pay), and establish custody or parenting time.
- If genetic testing is requested, the agency sets it up at the requesting party’s expense.
- Unless the test comes back negative, the court is required to determine paternity and may order child support.
The new laws create a very streamlined way for agencies to get “deadbeat dads” to pay child support. But they assume a lot.
Notice is Important
This law assumes that a letter in the mail to a last known address is enough to put a non-custodial parent on notice that they are about to owe hundreds of dollars a month for 18 years. But alleged or putative fathers don’t necessarily stay put, or open their mail. 21 days is barely sufficient to have a letter forwarded from an outdated address, let alone retain an attorney to dispute paternity. Personal service assures the right person gets the paperwork and on what day – ensuring they have enough time to respond. This streamlined process does away with adequate notice for the sake of efficiency.
Automatic Means Cookie-Cutter
If a non-custodial parent does not respond, paternity is automatically established and, under the Genetic Parentage Act custody automatically goes to the mother. What if the father requested the services? What if the child has been placed in a foster situation and that is why the services are being requested? What if the mother is the unresponsive party? These laws do not give courts the chance to ask those questions or investigate the circumstances. Instead they create cookie-cutter family molds and assume every family will fit them. If there is one thing that case law in this area has proven, it’s that no two cases are exactly alike.
These new laws are sloppy attempts to make life easier for government agencies. They will inevitably make life harder for the parents and children involved. They will also likely mean more work for family lawyers who will have to sort out what the state has done after the fact. But unless Congress does an about face and quickly, they will be the law in Michigan.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a family lawyer for Schmidt Law Services in Ferndale, Michigan. She helps parents in unusual family situations find the best solution for them and their children. If you know someone in a tricky family dispute, contact Schmidt Law Services today for a free consultation.