New state law lets mother decide who will raise children born out of extramarital affair

(WXYZ) - This is a story about a man who did something that many people may not agree with. He had a long affair with a married woman.  The question is should an affair bar him – or any man -- from having a role in raising a child born out of their relationship?

In this case, a new state law gave the woman the legal authority to choose if the biological dad will be part of the child's life.

When it comes to children born out of extramarital affairs, the Revocation of Paternity Act that went into effect last summer gives the decision to the mother as to who will raise the child. If she wants to cut the biological dad out of the equation she can—and that is what has happened to Aaron Grimes.  Grimes believes the law has gone too far.

Grimes says it was one of the most joyous days of his life, holding his son moments after he entered the world 15 months ago.

"Having a child isn't something I take very lightly. It's a responsibility and that's a responsibility I want to have," says Grimes, adding that he was looking forward to meeting his son from the start. "I was excited, she was excited."

"She" is Shawnita VanHook-Williams, the mother of their son. The two met in 2007 and Grimes says it was love at first sight.

"She was a great woman, very attractive, very intelligent, fun loving, and easy going," says Grimes.

In their four years together, he says they were very much in love.

"We went to restaurants. We went on vacation. We did a lot of things," says Grimes, who recalls how VanHook-Williams never wore her wedding ring, and that she told him from the start she was not happily married.

"She informed me that she was legally still married, and they were living together," he says. "The way it was expressed to me, it was more of kind of an arrangement that they couldn't get divorced at that period of time, whether it was finances or something."

But VanHook-Williams' attorney doesn't agree with Grimes's characterization.

"No, that's not the case. That's truly not the case," says LaVonne Bannister Jackson about the four-year relationship. But more on that in a moment.

Their relationship was no secret, not even to VanHook-Williams' husband. Photos show her and Grimes together at family gatherings. Grimes says that they were making plans well into the future. So when she got pregnant he thought they were both thrilled.

On the day Van Hook Williams went into labor at Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield, Grimes got a call from her mother saying he should come quickly.

When he arrived he anticipated a joyous, family affair. He didn't expect to see that her husband got there first.  

Grimes says their relationship had started to go downhill from there. His dream of a happy family, and raising their little son together was in trouble.

"She wanted more of kind of an arrangement where they would raise him, and she'd kind of find a way to fit me in. And I wasn't comfortable with that," he says.

VanHook-Williams knew the law was on her side—that it is up solely up to her to choose who will raise her son—her husband or her lover. She chose her husband. So Grimes got a lawyer.

"Normally fathers that you encounter in a legal practice are trying to run away from the responsibility of raising a child, and being financially responsible for the child. But Aaron (Grimes) is quite different," says attorney Ari Kresh. "Aaron embraced this as an opportunity to be a father. That's what he's wanted to be, and I was quite moved by his story."

So he took up Grimes' case—but he didn't get far. A judge tossed it out citing the new law.

"The legislature feels that it would be inconsistent if they say we're going to give a biological father rights to his own son even though he is a felon," says Kresh. "He's a felon for sleeping with a married woman. He's a felon, so we don't want to give him any rights to his biological son."

In Michigan, it has been on the books for decades that men and women who have an extramarital affair are committing a felony. As of last spring, state lawmakers have made it so that a man who commits this kind of felony can be stopped from raising a child born out of an extramarital affair—if he knew the woman he was with was married.

"It doesn't dawn on them that the son would have an advantage knowing who his father is," says Kresh, who is critical of the new law.

But State Senator Steve Bieda (D-Warren), who wrote the new law, says it is intended to look out for the child's best interest.  He explains that under the old law, biological dads who had kids from extramarital affairs had absolutely no standing. Now, dads who did not know the women with whom they were involved, was married do have legal rights to a child born out of an affair.

"So it gives an opportunity for the biological father to go into court and to establish paternity in those situations," Bieda says.

VanHook-Williams did not want to appear on camera, but her attorney La Vonne Bannister Jackson made it clear that Grimes will not be a welcome addition to her client's family.

"The baby is the mother's husband's child," says Bannister Jackson. "They are a united family."

Grimes says this is breaking his heart.

"I want to help raise my son," Grimes says. "I want my son to know who he is, the part of him that's me. And I want him to know his grandparents, my mother and father. So it's hard for me to just let it go because he is my son. He is a part of me."

Grimes says that he will continue to fight for his son and may even legally challenge the new law. As for child support, Grimes says he is very willing and able to put money toward his only son's upbringing. But his son's mom isn't interested. As for other men who face a similar fate, child support would be a decision made by a judge.

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