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Michael H. v. Gerald D.

491 U.S. 110 (1989)

tl;dr: Tradition does not confer the right of a genetic father to have a relationship with the child.

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This is an appeal case in the Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, challenging California law that presumes a child born to a married woman living with her husband is the child of the marriage. The appeal argues that this presumption violates the due process rights of a man seeking to establish paternity and the constitutional rights of the child to maintain a relationship with their biological father. The case involves Carole D., an international model, and Gerald D., a top executive in a French oil company, who were married in 1976 and established a home in California. Carole had an affair with a neighbor, Michael H., and conceived a child, Victoria D., who was born in 1981. Although Gerald was listed as the father on the birth certificate and has always held Victoria out to the world as his daughter, Carole informed Michael that he might be the father soon after the child's birth. The child remained with Carole for the first three years of her life and was part of various quasi-family units. In October 1981, Gerald moved to New York City, but Carole stayed in California. In that same month, Carole and Michael had blood tests that showed a high probability that Michael was Victoria's father. In January 1982, Carole visited Michael in St. Thomas, where he held Victoria out as his child. In the spring and summer, Carole and Victoria spent time with Gerald in New York City and Europe, but returned to California in the fall to live with Scott K. The lower court's presumption of paternity based on marriage is being challenged in this appeal.

The court denied Michael's request for paternity and visitation rights with Victoria based on California law that presumes a child born to a wife cohabiting with her husband is a child of the marriage. The court upheld the constitutionality of the statute and emphasized the importance of protecting the sanctity of the family unit. Justice Brennan dissented, arguing that a conclusive presumption terminating a natural father's interest without a hearing is a procedural flaw and that the father has a constitutional right to a relationship with the child. The plurality opinion's reliance on tradition and failure to consider the historical protection of parenthood as an interest is criticized. An unwed father's interest in personal contact with his child is protected under the Due Process Clause if he demonstrates a full commitment to his responsibilities as a father and has a substantial parent-child relationship.

The court's decision violates procedural due process as it terminates the relationship between Michael and Victoria without a hearing on paternity. Denying visitation rights to a putative father based on the existence of another male authority figure violates procedural fairness and the Due Process Clause. Conclusive presumptions suffer from a procedural defect as the State has denied a particular class of litigants a hearing to establish a relevant fact. Justice White disagrees with the decision and argues that biological fatherhood is important in determining a father's rights. Michael satisfies the Lehr criteria for constitutionally protected parental rights, but California law denies him the opportunity to establish a legal parent-child relationship with his daughter and to introduce blood-test evidence to prove paternity, which violates his due process rights. The California Evidence Code should be held unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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IRACIssue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion

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Facts & Holding

Facts:A CA law established a presumption that a child born...

Holding:The case was analyzed in substantive rather than procedural due...

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Michael H. v. Gerald D.

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