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Law School Case Brief

C.C . v. A.B. - 406 Mass. 679, 550 N.E.2d 365 (1990)

Rule:

The existence or nonexistence of a substantial relationship between a putative father and child is relevant in evaluating both the rights of the parent and the best interests of the child. The probate court must hold a preliminary hearing to determine the extent of the relationship between the putative father and the child. This is, in its nature, a fact-based question. The court must look at the relationship as a whole and consider emotional bonds, economic support, custody of the child, the extent of personal association, the commitment of the putative father to attending to the child's needs, the consistency of the putative father's expressed interest, the child's name, the names listed on the birth certificate, and any other factors which bear on the nature of the alleged parent-child relationship.

Facts:

On May 19, 1986, A.B. gave birth to a child. At the time of the child's conception and birth, A.B. lived with C.C. The parties had sexual relations. However, during the entire time that the mother lived with the c.c., including the time during which the child was born, the mother was married to another man. When A.B. and her husband reconciled, she left C.C. and took the child. Thereafter, C.C. filed a an action to establish his paternity, alleging that he is the father of the child. He sought an adjudication of his paternity and a right of visitation with the child. A.B. asserted that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209C, § 5(a) (1988) barred C.C. from bringing suit to establish paternity because since she was married , C.C. as a putative father was excluded from bringing suit. C.C. asserted that § 5(a) was unconstitutional in its denial of his standing to bring a paternity action. 

Issue:

Did Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209C, § 5(a) bar the putative father from bringing suit to establish paternity based on the ground that the mother of the child was legally married to another man?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court found that § 5(a) did not bar a putative father from attempting to establish paternity because the general equity jurisdiction of the Probate Court under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 215, § 6 provided for court access on that issue. Further, the court noted that the strict application of the presumption of legitimacy was no longer necessary. Thus, the court altered the standard of proof to require clear and convincing evidence. Because the trial record evidenced the requisite substantial parent-child relationship, the court concluded that the mother's motion to dismiss should be denied so that the putative father could attempt to establish paternity under the general equity powers of the probate court. Because the putative father had a cause of action at common law, the court declined to decide whether Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209C, § 5(a) (1988) denied him due process of law.

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