Michael H. v. Gerald D.
491 U.S. 110 (1989)

  • Carole and Gerald were married. They had a child named Victoria.
    • Scandalously, it turned out that Carole had been having an affair with Michael.
    • A blood test established that Michael was most likely the father.
  • Carole left Gerald for Michael, but then left Michael for Scott.
  • Michael sued for visitation rights, and to be declared Victoria’s father.
    • Victoria’s guardian ad litem filed a complaint asserting that Victoria had multiple ‘psychological fathers’ (Gerald, Michael, Scott) and was entitled to a filial relationship (and child support) from all of them.
  • Carole moved back in with Gerald, but then left him again and moved in with Michael. But then she left Michael and moved back in with Gerald.
    • Michael reestablished his suit to be declared the father.
  • Gerald intervened, and argued that under California law (Cal.Evid.Code §621), when a child is born to a married couple living together (as Victoria was), then the child is conclusively presumed to be the husband’s.
    • This presumption can only be rebutted if the husband or wife makes a motion to do so, and in this case Carole and Gerald did not do so because they wanted Victoria.
  • The Trial Court granted summary judgment and dismissed the case.
    • The Trial Court found the presumption of paternity in §621 to be dispositive.
  • Michael appealed.
    • Michael argued that §621 was an unconstitutional violation of substantive due process and his fundamental right to custody of his children.
  • The US Supreme Court found that Michael had no parental rights to Victoria.
    • The US Supreme Court noted that Victoria could not have dual fathers, so declaring Michael to be the father would terminate Gerald’s rights to Victoria.
    • The Court noted that there was no historical precedent for granting parental rights to the children of adulterous affairs to the adulteror. Therefore, there was no fundamental right involved.
      • Basically, in order to be a fundamental right it has to be something that is so ingrained in the culture it would be implicit in the Constitution. But giving Michael custody would be a break from precedent, so his interests can’t be considered ‘fundamental.’
      • If anything, Gerald’s presumption of legitimacy is the fundamental principle of common law.
    • Since there was no fundamental right at issue, California was free to enact §621without running afoul of substantive due process.
  • In a dissent it was argued that traditional notions of family were changing, and that looking at historical precedent to make modern decisions was “one of make believe,” especially considering that a blood test had proved Michael was factually the father.