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Michigan father's struggle results in major change in family law

Our readers in Brighton will be moved by the heart-rending story of a man whose plight as a father will now have a significant impact on Michigan's family law. The man is from nearby Hartland, and his efforts to regain custody of his young daughter have resulted in the state legislature changing an archaic Michigan statute that legally presumes that a mother's husband is the father of her child.

According to the 1956 statute, even if a man is shown to be the biological father of a child, he still has no legal grounds to gain child custody if the mother is married to another man. In fact, even if the mother and her husband are found guilty of neglecting the child, the biological father still has no parental rights.

However, all of that was recently changed when Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill into law. The new legislation gives fathers who pass a paternity test the right to seek custody of their children, even if the mother is married to someone else.

The Hartland man's story was the spark for the new law. In 2005, he became romantically involved with a woman who was estranged from her husband. She and the Hartland man moved in together, and shortly thereafter their daughter was born. However, two years later, the woman got back together with her husband.

To assert his rights in accordance with the 1956 statute, the husband sought custody of the Hartland man's daughter. The court granted the husband custody, and the girl was removed from her biological father's home. The father didn't see his daughter for three years.

Meanwhile, the husband and wife took the girl out of state. But despite their legal status as parents, the husband and mother were eventually found guilty of dealing drugs and child neglect.

When the biological father tried to get custody of his daughter, he was twice denied, and a court even gave custody back to the mother who was already found to be negligent. The Hartland man's struggle reached a Michigan legislator, and now a major change in Michigan's family law is officially on the books.

Parents in the Brighton area facing a similar dilemma will want to be aware of how the new law could affect child custody disputes. In such cases, the best interests of the child are always the top priority, and parents in Michigan will want to know what they can do to protect those interests.

Source: The Daily Tribune, "A father's journey: Michigan man's plight sparks change in state's custody law," Chad Selweski, June 15, 2012

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