Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Case Law Development: Constitutional Challenge to Paternity Laws Dismissed For Failure to State Claim

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a trial court's dismissal of a constitutional challenge to paternity and child support laws. The suit was brought by Father who claimed that he should not be responsible for child support when Mother had represented that she didn't want to have a child and assured him repeatedly she couldn't get pregnant.  Father argued that Michigan's paternity laws violated the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because a man does not have a similar choice as does a pregnant woman regarding abortion, adoption or raising a child.

The court found that Michigan Paternity Act does not affect any of Father’s fundamental rights because "it is not a fundamental right of any parent, male or female, to sever his or her financial responsibilities to the child after the child is born."  The court further noted that it did not need to apply intermediate scrutiny because the Michigan Paternity Act and other statutes that impose the obligation of support are gender neutral.  Finally, the court found that the Michigan Paternity Act withstood rational basis review because "the means that the statute uses to achieve this end–requiring support from the legal parents, and determining legal fatherhood based on the biological fatherhood–is substantially, let alone rationally, related to this legitimate, and probably important, government purpose."

The court declined to award fees for a frivolous appeal however.  "While we find [Father’s} challenge to the Michigan Paternity Act to lack support in our equal protection jurisprudence, we do not consider his appeal of the district court’s decision to be frivolous or worthy of imposing sanctions. Admittedly, our precedent ... suggests that [Father's] claim should be viewed as “wholly without merit.”... However, the court noted that the claim in this case was brought under a legal theory that had not yet been rejected by the court.

Dubay v. Wells, 6th Cir Ct. App. (November 6, 2007)
Opinion on the web (last visited November 6, 2007 bgf)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/family_law/2007/11/case-law-develo.html

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