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Michael H. v. Gerald D

Citation. 491 U.S. 110, 109 S. Ct. 2333, 105 L. Ed. 2d 91, 1989 U.S.
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Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The State has a legitimate interest in protecting the parental rights of a married couple having a child to the exclusion of the parental rights of a biological father.


The situation at bar is sordid and convoluted. In short, Michael H. impregnated Carole D. while she was still married and living with Gerald D. The child born from their encounter, Victoria D., has Gerald D. recorded as her father on her birth certificate. Carole and Gerald for many years commencing with the child’s birth, held Victoria out publicly as their own offspring. However, DNA tests show that Michael H. is over 98% certainly Victoria’s biological father. While Carole D. and Gerald D. were separated, Michael H. and Carole D. lived together with Victoria D. and held her out publicly as their child. Carole D. and Gerald D. have since divorced and Carole D. has married Scott K. Michael H. now sues for parental rights over Victoria D. California’s paternity laws conclusively presume that the issue (child) of a wife cohabiting with her non-impotent or sterile husband is a child of the marriage. This presumption may only be challenged by the husband or wife within the first
two years of marriage.


Do California’s paternity statutes deprive Michael H. of a fundamental right to have parental contact with his child?


No. Ruling affirmed.
Justice Antonin Scalia (J. Scalia) refutes Michael H.’s contention that biological fatherhood and an existing parent-child relationship entitle him to prove paternity of Victoria D. Specifically, J. Scalia notes that there is no established tradition of allowing a unitary family to be dissolved by a third party judicially without their consent.


Justice William Brennan (J. Brennan) dissents, viewing the majority’s insistence on the rights of the State to preserve the unitary family as singularly incongruent to the current case. There is little or no resemblance to a traditional unitary family in the relationships carried on by Carole D., Gerald D., and Michael H.. J. Brennan further asserts that such state of affairs is more common than the majority wishes to admit.


The major difference between the majority and dissent is whether the United States Constitution (Constitution) is one of predefined, static principles, or an organic and changing document. J. Scalia’s analysis rests on the traditional interest of the State in preserving the unitary family and discouraging adultery (if one wishes to have a paternal relationship with ones offspring, do not impregnate a married woman whose husband may accept the child as his own). Whereas J. Brennan’s approach is one based in the reality of the situation (if the traditional unitary family clearly means so little to Carole D., why is the preservation of the traditional unitary family advanced as an argument benefiting her?). The line of argument in J. Brennan’s dissent requires that behavior such as Carole D. and Michael H’s not be a societal outlier.

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