Dads Fight ‘Outdated’ Michigan Law Barring Them from Their Children
(LANSING, Mich.) -- To prove he was the legitimate and engaged father to his daughter, Daniel Quinn handed positive DNA test results and a Christmas video of himself and his child to a Michigan judge in 2009, but a 55-year-old state law still bars Quinn from having any legal access to his own flesh and blood.
Quinn is not suspected of any abuse or any other crime. Instead, he fell afoul of the Michigan Maternity Act, which holds that babies conceived during a marriage are a product of that union -- even when they were conceived outside of the marriage.
Although she was still married to another man, the mother of now 5-year-old Maeligh Border and Quinn lived together for three years, he said.
The DNA test was his bid to unequivocally establish paternity as the relationship with Maeligh's mom, Candace Beckwith -- who has since pleaded guilty in Kentucky to child endangerment charges in connection with the growing and sale of hallucinogenic mushrooms in Kentucky -- began unraveling two years ago.
"The judge never made a determination on that DNA test," said Quinn, of Hartland, Mich., who hasn't seen his daughter in two and a half years and isn't entirely certain where she is. "Eight months after I presented that to the courts, the [mother's] husband walked in and said he was the only father my daughter every knew."
The claim by Beckwith's husband was the furthest thing from the truth, Quinn said. But as a result, Quinn could not block the man, who is currently in jail on drug charges, from taking Maeligh and her mother to another state.
That pushed Quinn into what is a small, growing coterie of fathers rallying behind legislation aimed at undoing several of its key provisions, chiefly the one automatically granting husbands -- estranged or not -- rights to a child who is not their biological offspring.
Already approved in the Michigan State Senate, the bipartisan bills are now moving through the state's House of Representatives. If signed into law in early 2012, as is expected, the change will be exceedingly welcomed and way over due, the fathers, their lawyers and other supporters said.
"It's a sad, sad scenario," said Matt Dykema, a house painter from Grand Rapids, Mich., who fathered an infant with a woman he impregnated while she was going through a divorce. "The law is so outdated. I 'm sure that, at the time it was put into effect, it was feasible."
It's been three weeks since Dykema last saw 5-month-old Madelynn Jane Fisher, the last in what have been increasingly sporadic visits.
"His DNA test confirmed to the 10-millioneth decimal point -- 99.9999997 percent -- that he's the father," said Chris Houghtaling, Dykema's Muskegon, Mich., attorney.
The maternity act that is sidelining fathers such as his client was enacted during a very different era, before science made it possible to pinpoint a child's paternity, Houghtaling said.
"Unfortunately," he added, "this child is being denied an opportunity to have a relationship with the biological father. It's a tragedy."
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