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Can a Nonbiological Parent Can Seek Child Custody in Michigan?

The definition of family has evolved in the U.S. and with that change has come the legal recognition of parental rights arising from nontraditional relationships. In Michigan, a legal framework called the equitable parent doctrine allows a spouse who is not a biological parent of his or her spouse’s child, but who has raised and formed a bond with the child, to be treated as a parent upon divorce for purposes of child custody.

As originally adopted in 1987, the equitable parent doctrine applied only to married men whose wives, during the marriage, gave birth to another man’s child. This narrow view was reaffirmed in 1999, when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine applied “only in situations where a child was born or conceived during a marriage, to convey equitable parenting status on a husband who was not the biological father of the child.”

The equitable parent doctrine was broadened by the Michigan Supreme Court in 2016, specifically to protect the parent-child relationships of same-sex spouses. Today, nonbiological parents regardless of their sexual orientation can use the doctrine to establish parental rights, including custody and visitation rights upon divorce.

Once equitable parentage is established, the nonbiological parent’s custody rights will be determined according to the Michigan Child Custody Act, just like the rights of a biological parent. The court will determine custody based on the best interests of the child, considering factors such as:

  • Each parent’s willingness to provide love, affection, and guidance.
  • The ability and willingness of either parent to provide appropriate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.
  • The moral fitness of both parents.
  • The child’s stability and whether they will continue to live in a safe environment.
  • The mental health of the parents and children.
  • The child’s reasonable preference.
  • The child’s home, school, and community records.
  • Each parent’s willingness to encourage a continuing relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent.
  • Incidents of domestic violence.
  • Any other relevant factors that require evaluation by the court.

As an experienced child custody attorney, I have represented nonbiological parents seeking custody as well as biological parents seeking to challenge the nonbiological parent’s assertion of custody or visitation rights. I know the emotional difficulty these cases bring and I am prepared to help you get through it.

Dawson Family Law, PLLC serves clients throughout Detroit and southeast Michigan. My office is conveniently located one-half mile south of M-59 (Hall Road) in Sterling Heights. To arrange a free initial consultation, please call 833-671-4445 or contact me online today.



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    Phone: 586-731-7400
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