Bieda pushes changes to Paternity Act to give fathers more rights

By Shannan O’Neil, Capital News Service | Macomb Daily | December 27, 2011

LANSING [Michigan]— Daniel Quinn of Fenton says he hasn’t seen his daughter in three years because under state law, he is not allowed to prove he is her father.

Quinn said that five years ago he fathered a child with a woman who was separated from her husband. Quinn and the woman raised the girl for more than two years together.

When the woman returned to her husband, Quinn said he lost all rights to see his child. Quinn’s experience has prompted Sen. Steven Bieda, D-Warren, to introduce a bill to change Michigan’s Paternity Act.

The Paternity Act gives circuit courts the jurisdiction to determine who is responsible for children, the enforcement of responsibility and what punishments to give when the responsibility isn’t met.

It delegates the responsibility of the child’s needs to the married couple but the bill would shift the responsibilities to the biological parents.

When a woman has a baby while married, it is presumed in Michigan that the child is the husband’s — even if the woman had an affair, said Douglas Wartell, partner and co-founder of American Divorce Association for Men. The woman can file with the courts for a DNA test to see if the man she had an affair with is the father, but the law does not allow a man to ask for such a test.

It’s an injustice against men, Bieda said.

After raising his daughter for more than two years, Quinn lost her because the mother didn’t want the test.

“I look at the news, I see when there are parents out there pleading because their children are missing, and I feel every ounce of their pain,” Quinn said. “No matter what or how anybody wants to look at this, my daughter was kidnapped. I’m scared every day. I can’t sleep, it’s consumed my life and until she is home my life will never be complete.”

Bieda’s bills would allow men to pay for DNA tests to prove paternity, even when the woman carrying the baby is married or got married during the pregnancy to another man.

It’s a tragic gap in law, Bieda said. These fathers have rights, he said.

The Senate passed the bill.

When the mother of Quinn’s baby went back to her husband, she moved to Ohio then Kentucky. Quinn went through the courts in each state but they all relied on the first ruling in Michigan that did not give Quinn legal standing.

This bill gives men that want to take responsibility for their children an opportunity if they file for action within three years of the child’s birth, Bieda said.

Wartell’s firm sees more than a handful of men seeking help in cases like this but the firm generally tells them that it would be a waste of the client’s money. Legally there isn’t anything the attorneys can do, he said.

The bill is the answer to this problem, Bieda said.

The Paternity Act was designed to protect the sanctions of marriage with the idea that that two happily married people can raise a child better than two unmarried people, Wartell said. He doesn’t see the truth in this, because if the woman has a baby with another man, the marriage probably isn’t happy.

The current law is bad for children and fathers, he said.

“Don’t you think a child should have its own independent right to know who their real biological parent is? Don’t you think there should be equality in the law?” Wartell asked.

Quinn’s daughter knows who her father is but hasn’t been able to see him in three years.

“Christmas has not been the same,” Quinn said. “Thanksgiving has not been the same. My family has not been the same. There is a piece of us that is missing; it’s like having a death in the family every day.”

No opposition has been expressed to the package of bills. The bill is pending in the House Committee on Judiciary.

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