Dads Fight 'Outdated' Michigan Law Barring Them From Their Children

If the law allowed, Michigan dad would fight for more time with his baby.

Dec. 27, 2011— -- 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 have 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 the 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 "The law is so outdated.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 he 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, when science hadn't 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."

Given the strictures of what Houghtaling dismisses as an arcane law, Dykema "can't even go to court and say, 'Judge, please allow me to be a dad,'" Houghtaling told ABC affiliate WZZM in Grand Rapids.

Quinn, Dykema, and other fathers in similar situations, have no legal standing in Michigan, even with positive DNA tests and other documented evidence of their parenting, said Houghtaling, a candidate for Ottaway County Circuit Court Judge.

Petitioning the courts to allow Dykema to establish paternity, custodial rights and "parenting time, a relationship" might, on the face of it, seem futile. But the recent litigation and years-long cases fought by Dykema and others, nevertheless, have been the fathers' vital means of pressing for change, the men, their lawyers and supports said.

Inaction, they said, was not an option.

"When Maeligh was taken from me, everything changed," Quinn said. "Christmases, holidays, there's always an important piece missing … It's like a death in the family."

It's a trauma that's hard to articulate, said Jim Dykema, Matt Dyekma's father. The standoff over his firstborn grandchild has been nothing short of heartbreaking. So, the family is pinning its hopes on the legislative proposals.

If the Maternity Act is upended, "the door to the courthouse opens again for Matt," Jim Dykema said. "Right now, it's closed, bolted and locked."

Matt "really loves that little girl," said Marcia Dykema, Matt's mother. "He totally takes care of her when she's here. To see her for a while and then all of a sudden you can't have any contact at all, it's been rough."

Reached by telephone, Michelle Fisher declined comment and directed ABC to her attorney Rachel Terpstra.

An e-mailed statement from Terpstra, for whom ABC left a voicemail message, read: "My client acted and continues to act in the best interest of her daughter, Madilynn. My client and her family are following Michigan law and the ruling of the Ottawa County Circuit Court and request that the media respect their privacy in this matter."

Bill Fisher, Michelle Fisher's ex-husband, could not be reached for comment.

As things now stand, Bill Fisher would have to waive his parental rights before Dykema can demand more of a role in rearing his child and spending time with her.

Child Protective Services placed 5-month-old Madelynn Jane Fisher in the temporary custody of Michelle Fisher's mother, Mary Garbrecht, in mid-September when Fisher, a mother of five, came under mental duress. ABC News left messages on Garbrecht answering machine but received no response.

ABC News could not reach Beckwith, mother to Quinn's daughter, could for comment, but she spoke with ABC affiliate WXYZ-TV in Detroit.

"In her (Maeleigh's) case, Three years ago, the law did what it needed to do," Beckwith told WXYZ.

She said the law allowed her to leave Quinn, who she didn't think was doing enough to provide for her and Maeligh.

Quinn said he last saw Maeligh on Memorial Day 2008, and last spoke with her in August 2008.

"She's still in Kentucky, the last I heard. And I'm hearing this through someone who's been anonymous throughout this whole thing, and I don't care to know. It gives me a peace to know she's OK," Quinn said.

Should Michigan's proposed act pass, it would become aligned with nine states that have passed the so-called Uniform Parentage Act: Alabama, Delaware, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The American Bar Association Family Law Section and its Steering Committee on Unmet Legal Needs of Children, National Child Support Enforcement Association, American Association of Matrimonial Attorneys and the Council of State Governments are among the act's endorsers.

Michigan's current maternity and paternity rules are based on centuries-old English law that "doesn't make any sense in today's world of DNA results," said Jeanne Hannah, a Traverse, Mich., attorney who has represented several fathers affected by Michigan's law.

"A mother who's decided she doesn't want a relationship with the biological father can prevent that [father-child] relationship from happening, even though she may ultimately be divorced or even in cases where that husband doesn't want to be the father," she said of the current law in Michigan. "It deprives the child of a parent-child relationship with any father at all."