The prosecuting attorney is charged by law with the responsibility to establish court orders which provide for: (1) the payment of support by a non-custodial parent to the custodial parent, (2) the establishment of paternity and payment of support of a child born out of wedlock, (3) the repayment to the state for confinement expenses related to pregnancy and birth of a child, and (4) the establishment of support orders across state lines.
All referrals come to the prosecutor’s office from the Department of Human Services (DHS), formerly known as the Family Independence Agency (FIA). Since the DHS is often providing government assistance to families, that agency is interested in assuring that the non-custodial parent is helping to support the family and/or reimbursing the government, as required by Title IV-D of the federal Social Security Act.
A majority of the work on referrals, including investigation, pleadings preparation, and case preparation is done in the prosecutor’s office by the family support specialist, Christine Brooks. If you have questions regarding establishing paternity or child support, please call 231-348-1725 and ask for Chris.
The prosecutor’s office does not enforce court orders already established. If you are seeking enforcement of an existing order, please contact the Friend of the Court office in the county where the case was decided.
Please review the frequently asked questions regarding paternity, child support and other related areas below.
What is the prosecutor’s role in establishing paternity in Michigan?
After a referral from the DHS, the prosecutor’s office interviews the custodial parent and then files a complaint with the Circuit Court. The alleged father is served with a copy of the complaint. Depending on his answer, a consent order may be entered or genetic testing such as a blood test may be ordered. The prosecutor’s office arranges for the genetic testing to be done. If the alleged father admits or is found to be the father through the testing, the prosecutor will prepare an Order and present it to the Circuit Court judge for his signature.
What is paternity?
Paternity means “fatherhood”. The term “establishing paternity” means legally naming the biological father of the child as the legal father.
Why is it important to establish paternity?
The parents and the child have the right to have a parent-child relationship. In addition, there are these reasons:
- Identity. It is important to know who we are. Children who know both parents develop a sense of “belonging”.
- Money. The law requires both parents to support their children, even if the pregnancy was unplanned. Children supported by just one parent often do not have enough money for their needs.
- Benefits. The child has the right to its parents’ benefits (social security, insurance, inheritance, veterans’, etc.)
- Medical. The child may need a complete medical history from the families of both parents, including inherited health problems.
How is legal paternity established?
If the mother is married at the time of conception or when the baby is born, her husband is considered by law to be the father, unless a court says otherwise.
If the mother is married at the time of conception or birth, but her husband is not the biological father of the child, the biological father cannot be considered the legal father unless a court has determined that the husband is not the biological father.
If the mother is not married at the time of conception or birth, or if a court has determined that her husband is not the biological father of the child, paternity can be established by (1) both parents signing a voluntary “Affidavit of Parentage” which is filed with the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Office of the State Registrar, or (2) a judge can declare that a man is the legal father after a court case has been started.
How can the biological father voluntarily acknowledge paternity?
Both parents must sign papers acknowledging paternity. The “Affidavit of Parentage” must be notarized and filed with the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Office of the State Registrar. Before signing the form in the presence of a notary public, the father must provide pictured identification and his social security number (plus other identification, if necessary). This form can be mailed to the Office of the State Registrar. The county clerk’s office or our family support specialist, Chris, can provide the address.
If the parents decide to voluntarily acknowledge paternity, what other steps must be taken?
Besides filing the notarized Affidavit of Parentage with the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Office of the State Registrar, the parents should try to agree on issues of child support, parenting time (“visitation”), and custody. If the parents cannot agree, then they must get a court order.
In Emmet County, issues of child custody and visitation are not handled through the Prosecutor’s Office when there is a paternity case. These issues are handled by the Friend of the Court office. Other counties may handle these matters differently.
What if the father refuses to acknowledge paternity?
The mother, the father or the DHS may bring a paternity lawsuit to have the matter resolved in court. The alleged father is entitled to a hearing in Circuit Court to prove whether he is the father.
What if the mother is not sure who the father is?
If receiving public assistance, the mother will need to speak with her case investigator at the DHS office for a referral of her case to the Office of Child Support in Lansing, Michigan (see below). That person will help the mother to identify and locate, if necessary, the father. If the mother is not on public assistance and wants help, she must contact the Office of Child Support in Lansing, Michigan on her own (see below). The mother does not have to be on public assistance to seek help from the DHS Support Specialist.
When is a blood test or genetic testing necessary?
How is a paternity blood test done? How is genetic testing done? What does the testing show? Who pays for the test?
A genetic testing is needed when the alleged father denies or questions paternity. If a test is ordered by the Circuit Court, the mother, child and alleged father will be scheduled for testing. Sometimes, only the child and the father need to be tested.
Generic testing involves using cotton swabs to remove saliva from the mouth of the mother, child and alleged father. These samples are sent to a laboratory to be tested. The tests compare many different and complex details of the child’s saliva with the mother and alleged father’s saliva.
The tests can accurately show that a man is not the father of the child, or give a percentage of likelihood that he is the father. The laboratory attempts to establish a percentage above 99% that he is the father or eliminate him as the father. Because of the accuracy, the test result usually settles the issue, so contested paternity trials are rare.
The court will decide who pays for the testing. When the alleged father is shown not to be the father, he does not pay. On the other hand, if the alleged father is shown to be the father, the court usually orders him to pay the cost of the testing.
What happens if the father or mother is not 18? Do you have to wait until they are both 18?
In Michigan, the age of the father and mother are irrelevant.
How long after the child is born can paternity be established?
Michigan law permits paternity actions to be started anytime before the child reaches the age of 18. However, a mother should not wait to establish paternity. Your child has the right to expect regular and continued emotional and financial support from both parents. Give your child the best possible chance in life by getting paternity established now!
What is a “support order”?
A support order means any order entered by the Circuit Court which requires the payment of money for child support, spousal support (alimony), medical, dental and other health care expenses, child care expenses, and educational expenses.
How do I get a court order regarding child support?
Support orders can be obtained under at least four different public acts: (1) The Paternity Act, (2) The Family Support Act, (3) The Emancipation Act, or (4) The Divorce Act.
A Complaint or Petition requesting an Order of Support must be filed in the Family Division of the Circuit Court. If both parties (as well as the Judge and Friend of the Court) agree on the amount of support, an order may be quickly entered. If the parties cannot agree, you can consult with a lawyer or contact your county DHS Support Specialist for help.
You do not have to be on public assistance to request help from the DHS Office of Child Support. The DHS Office of Child Support can refer a support case to the Prosecuting Attorney, who can file an action in the Family Division of the Circuit Court under one of the first three acts mentioned in the preceding paragraph. If you are going to or have filed for divorce, the Prosecuting Attorney generally cannot help you in obtaining a child support order.
The DHS Office of Child Support is located in Lansing, Michigan and can be contacted by calling (866)540-0008 or (866)661-0005.
Once the support order has been entered, if the parents get back together and decide to end the family support order, they must contact their lawyer or the Friend of the Court to stop the support order. It is not sufficient to just notify the DHS case worker or the Prosecutor’s Office. If the custodial parent of the child is the recipient of public assistance, child support payments may not be stopped just because the parents agree to end the support order.
How is child support determined?
Child support is set by a formula in the Michigan Child Support Guidelines. This formula considers both parents’ income, the number of children and their custodial arrangements. A child’s health care costs, educational expenses and child care expenses may also be included in the child support order.
You may obtain a copy of the Michigan Child Support Guidelines by contacting:
Department of Management and Budget
Office Services Division / Publications Section
7461 Crowner Drive
Lansing, Michigan 48913
Ph: (517) 322-1899
Will the prosecutor’s office help me in obtaining a child custody order of parenting time (visitation) order?
In most circumstances, the Prosecuting Attorney cannot help you with these issues. If either parent wants to obtain a custody or parenting time order, they should contact their caseworker in the Friend of the Court office or hire a lawyer.
The parent responsible for paying support (the “payer”) has stopped paying. What can be done?
The Friend of the Court is responsible for enforcing payment orders and collecting delinquencies. You may hire a lawyer to file an enforcement action as well. There are several options to collect on delinquent child support orders, including the following: income withholding orders, show cause hearings (civil contempt hearings held with the Judge who issued the support order), tax fund intercepts, and liens on the payer’s property.
An important note: Orders for parenting time (visitation) and support, while they may be included in the same court order, are enforceable separately from each other. Therefore, if you are not being paid the support monies to which you believe you are entitled under the support order, you may not withhold parenting time (visitation) from the delinquent payer simply because you are not receiving the support monies. In this situation, contact your case worker at the Friend of the Court.
It is also possible that a parent, who is obligated to support a child and fails to follow the order of a court to do so, may be subject to criminal prosecution. This is an extreme step, usually taken only when all other options to get the payer to pay have been exhausted. You should talk to your case worker at the Friend of the Court office to see if this option can be used.
The parent responsible for paying child support has moved to another state. What do I do?
The parent responsible for paying child support must continue to pay support through the Friend of the Court, even if he or she leaves this state. If child support payments stop, the parent who is owed the money has several options:
- Contact a lawyer or the DHS to request an action under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). A UIFSA order establishes a support order in the state where the payer lives. If you go through the DHS, they will send a referral to the Prosecuting Attorney to start a UIFSA action. If the payer’s location is unknown, the DHS or the Prosecuting Attorney may be able to help find him or her. Under UIFSA, the state where the payer lives then is responsible for collecting on and enforcing a child support order against the payer. Since each state has control over its orders, the amount of support ordered may be different than your Michigan order. That does not affect the amount owed under the Michigan order. A delinquent payer who returns to Michigan can be brought before a Michigan court for failure to pay the full amount under the Michigan order.
- Register the Michigan order in the other state where the payer lives. The Friend of the Court or a lawyer can help you do this. Once registered, it becomes an order of that state’s court, and is enforced by that other state. [NOTE: In some states, registering the support order requires registering the custody and parenting time orders, which will give the other state’s court the power to change the terms of the support, custody or parenting time orders, if asked.]
- Request the Friend of the Court to arrange for the Michigan court to send an interstate income withholding order, if the name and address of the payer’s source of income are known.
- Talk to your case worker at the Friend of the Court office about any of the above options or other options that could be considered.
You keep mentioning the “Friend of the Court”? What is the “Friend of the Court”?
The Friend of the Court is a part of the Family Division of the Circuit Court. Each county has a Friend of the Court office. The Friend of the Court is not a division of the Prosecuting Attorney’s office. The Friend of the Court is responsible for :
- Investigating, reporting and making recommendations to the Circuit Court on custody, parenting time and the amount of child support;
- Providing mediation sessions to resolve child custody and parenting time disagreements;
- Collecting, recording and sending out all support payments ordered by the court; and
- Initiating enforcement of all custody, support and parenting time orders entered by the court.
How do I contact the Emmet County Friend of the Court?
The Emmet County Friend of the Court office is located on the bottom floor of the Emmet County Building, 200 Division Street, Petoskey, Michigan 49770. Their telephone number is 231-348-1717.