No parental rights for man after mom married

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- A northern Michigan man's bid to establish parental rights to a 2-year-old boy was shot down by the state appeals court in a decision that rested on the marital status of the mother when the child was born.

It's another case where a man has no automatic right to paternity in Michigan if a child is born to a woman while she's married to another man. The law has changed since John Sprenger filed a lawsuit in 2011, but the new version hasn't helped him, either.

Sprenger, 30, of Traverse City claims he's the biological father of a boy born in 2011. He and Emily Bickle, 33, were engaged, but the engagement ended and Bickle remarried her former husband before the child was born.

Emily and Adam Bickle have the advantage under law unless they agreed to let Sprenger intervene and try to establish fatherhood -- "even if blood test results revealed a 99.99% probability that he is the biological father," Gleicher and Judge Amy Ronayne Krause said.

In a separate concurring opinion, Gleicher said the boy already has a father, Adam Bickle.

"When married parents choose not to explore the paternity of a child born during a marriage, a putative father has no right to meddle with their decision," she wrote.

Gleicher said it would be "nothing short of chilling" to try to separate the child from the Bickles. In dissent, Boonstra said Sprenger deserves a chance to establish he's the father.

"At a time when too many fathers are running from their parental responsibilities, plaintiff in this case is running toward his," Boonstra said.

The appeals court viewed the case under an old version of Michigan's paternity law. While the case was pending, the law was changed in 2012 to give men a better chance at establishing fatherhood.

Sprenger filed a separate lawsuit under the new law, too, but lost that case in Benzie County Circuit Court. He'll likely take it again to the appeals court.

"Justice fails when the truth is made subservient to procedural rules," his attorney, Eric Phelps, said.

Emily Bickle's attorney, Paul Jarboe, declined to comment on why his client doesn't simply allow a paternity test.

"If you don't have legal standing, that's where the discussion stops," he said.

Published: Tue, Sep 17, 2013

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