Unmarried Parents Rights

Dear Ellen, My sister in law lives in Michigan with her parents and is the mother of a three year old son. The father of the child and she were never married and he lives in California. He is mostly out of the picture except a couple times a year when he starts a campaign of wanting to see and know his son. It seems that he mainly does this in order to try and maintain a relationship with and control over my sister in law. He sends some money but is very unpredictable with money, communication and visits. I am hoping you can give us some direction on what boundaries we can set. In reccent past we have had her parents meet him with the child when he visits. This makes him very angry and he has threatened to go to court if she herself doesn’t maintain a relationship with him and his parents. My dear sister in law is frightened that he may try to gain custody to spite her. He has a history of dishonesty and manipulation. My questions are what rights and obligations do both parties have? How can we establish and maintain order for the wellbeing of the mother and child? Does accepting or not accepting money from him change anything? Do you have any insight on what would happen if the courts were involved? Thank you very much for your time. Best wishes,

What you are asking for is legal advice and I cannot give that. You should consult with an attorney that practices inthe County in Michigan that you live in.  You can find an attorney on at www.divorcenet.com, www.mediate.com, or through the State Bar of Michigan — they will give you one referal at a time. You might be able to check your local county bar association as well.

However, I can offer you these questions and thoughts to think about:

1. Are there any documents that give the father any legal rights whatsover? what about any visitation rights? If so, those need to be honored?

2. If not, I would consider going to Court pro-actively to secure her having sole legal and physical custody of the child since he lives in California? Her son lives with her the majority of the time and he lives out of State. In the day to day picture, she has that now but it would help to have the Court’s blessing and bakcing on this as well.  You say he tries a couple of times a year to see him. Does he come to Michigan to try or does he just try from California? If your sister in law goes to court, she will have to give him notice of her intentions by sending him notice of any court dates and papers filed unless she has reason to fear him harming her or the child if she serves him then she will have to prove the danger to the Court in order to get notice waived — this is not a guarantee!  I would also consider asking the Court for supervised parenting time with a neutral third party for him.

3. Is your sister in law fearful for her safety? for her son’s safety? If so, perhaps a Personal Protection Order should be considered in addition to the above especially if there is a history of violence or credible belief that he is capable of violence or taking the child.

4. Does he send money regularly now or just when he wants to see the child? If it is monthly, keep taking it. Money does not automatically give him rights to see the child under the law — these items are suppose to be separate. However, it if is only when he wants to see the child, then don’t take it. Is there a child support order? That could impact whether she takes the money or not. If there is no order there is no obligation to accept and if she can do well without his money, all the better.

I do not know if this is helpful or not, I hope that it is!