There is no question that the hottest news (gossip) topic in the last few days has been centered around the “love child" fathered by Arnold Schwarzenegger with his housekeeper, allegedly Mildred “Patty" Patricia Baena, while he was married to Maria Shriver. The news has been shocking, devastating, and sad, to say the least. Even more shocking that the child is now a teenager, and this entire relationship and child was hidden privately and publicly for over a decade.
Which raises an interesting question. Why has this become public now, since the child is assumed to be about 14 years old? Why not earlier? While I don’t presume to know the laws of paternity in California, a brief overview of paternity law in Michigan may provide some possible answers.
In Michigan, if a child is born while a woman is married, that child is legally presumed to be the biological child of the married parents. No one can challenge this paternity while the couple is married, even if a DNA test proves that the biological father is someone else.
If a woman becomes pregnant when she is unmarried, but then marries someone before the child is born, the child is presumed to be the father of the man she marries. This is true again even if DNA tests prove that the biological father is someone else.
In short, Michigan honors the sanctity of marriage for purposes of paternity. If a child is born during a marriage, the husband is presumed legally to be the father.
However, if the couple files for divorce, the mother or father can challenge the paternity of any of the children born during the marriage. If this happens, a DNA test is conducted, and if the test proves that the husband is not the father, the divorce judgment can include this information, and that child’s paternity remains an open question. If this happens, once the divorce becomes final, the mother or the assumed true biological father can the file a paternity action to establish paternity of that child.
Simply, if a man knows that he has fathered a child, even if a DNA test is done, he has no standing under Michigan law to establish his paternity if the mother is married to someone else. Additionally, if the mother does divorce, but the divorce judgment indicates that all the children born during the marriage are children of the husband and wife, the biological father still lacks standing. The husband is presumed to be the father (despite DNA), and this issue cannot be challenged once the divorce is finalized.
Turning back to the case of Arnold Schwartzenegger and his housekeeper, it was noted by the press that Patty Baena was married at the time she conceived this “love child." If that is the case, then Patty Baena’s husband was legally presumed to be the father. However, the press has also stated that she is now divorced. Perhaps the divorce judgment indicates that this “love child" is not a child of that marriage, leaving paternity open. Perhaps Patty Baena is now going to file either a paternity or child support action, seeking financial support for her child. It’s just a guess, but if you analyze the law surrounding paternity issues, it makes sense.
Family Law Attorney