Michael H. v. Gerald D.

491 U.S. 110, 109 S. Ct. 2333 (1989)

 

RULE:

The court applies the ordinary "rational relationship" test to a child's equal protection challenge to Cal. Evid. Code ann. § 621 (Supp. 1989). The primary rationale underlying § 621's limitation on those who may rebut the presumption of legitimacy is a concern that allowing persons other than the husband or wife to do so may undermine the integrity of the marital union. When the husband or wife contests the legitimacy of their child, the stability of the marriage has already been shaken. In contrast, allowing a claim of illegitimacy to be pressed by the child -- or, more accurately, by a court-appointed guardian ad litem -- may well disrupt an otherwise peaceful union. Since it pursues a legitimate end by rational means, California's decision to treat a child differently from her parents is not a denial of equal protection.

FACTS:

Mother and respondent were married. Mother had an adulterous relationship with petitioner father. As a result petitioner child was born. Respondent was listed as father on child's birth certificate and held child out to the world as his daughter. Blood tests showed a 98.07% probability that petitioner was child's father. For a time, mother resided with petitioner, who held child out as his daughter. Mother subsequently moved and rebuffed father's attempts to visit child. Petitioner filed a filiation action to establish his paternity and right to visitation. Child filed a cross-complaint asserting that if she had more than one de facto father, she was entitled to maintain her filial relationship with both. Mother and respondent reconciled. Respondent intervened, and the superior court granted his motion for summary judgment against petitioner and child despite the latter’s challenges against the constitutionality of the California statute regarding paternity. The California Court of Appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court denied discretionary review.

ISSUE:

Does the presumption of legitimacy which bars the putative father and the child from questioning the latter’s legitimacy violate due process?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

A majority of the members of the court agreed that the conclusive presumption statute did not infringe on the due process rights of the putative father or the child, or on the child's equal protection rights. The primary rationale underlying § 621's limitation on those who may rebut the presumption of legitimacy is a concern that allowing persons other than the husband or wife to do so may undermine the integrity of the marital union. When the husband or wife contests the legitimacy of their child, the stability of the marriage has already been shaken. In contrast, allowing a claim of illegitimacy to be pressed by the child -- or, more accurately, by a court-appointed guardian ad litem -- may well disrupt an otherwise peaceful union. Since it pursues a legitimate end by rational means, California's decision to treat a child differently from her parents is not a denial of equal protection.

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