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A Better Partnership
September 20, 2013

COA rules that standing requirements for putative fathers seeking DNA testing are constitutional.

In Grimes v. Van-Hook Williams, the Michigan Court of Appeals followed the plain language of the Revocation of Paternity Act and held that a putative father who knew that the child’s mother was married at the time of conception lacked standing to compel DNA testing to establish his paternity.  The court also concluded that the statute’s requirements did not violate the alleged father’s due process or equal protection rights.

Aaron Grimes and Shawnita Van Hook-Williams had an on-again off-again relationship over the course of several years.  Van Hook-Williams was married to another man at the time.  During the course of their affair, Van-Hook Williams became pregnant.  Grimes filed a complaint in the lower court attempting to compel a DNA test to establish that he was the father of the child, and seeking custody rights and parenting time.  His complaint acknowledged that Van Hook-Williams was married from the time the child was conceived until its birth, but stated Grimes’s belief that the two were separated when the child was born.  The lower court rejected Grimes’s petition on the basis that his knowledge of the marriage meant he lacked standing to bring the action.  The court of appeals affirmed that decision.

The Revocation of Paternity Act, MCL 722.1441 et seq., states in part that an “alleged father” may only file an action to establish paternity if he “did not know or have a reason to know that the mother was married at the time of conception.”  One challenge Grimes raised on appeal was that there was insufficient evidence that he knew or had reason to know of Van-Hook Williams’s marriage.  The court rejected this challenge by pointing to Grimes’s own complaint, which acknowledged the marriage, and the lack of any other evidence that Grimes had reason to believe Van-Hook Williams and her husband had divorced rather than merely separated.  Under the plain language of the statute then, Grimes was not eligible to bring a paternity action under the Act.

Grimes also argued that applying this standing requirement to him violated his due process and equal protection rights.  The court of appeals rejected both challenges.  With respect to his due process claim, the court recognized that while parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the “care, custody, and control of their children,” this interest “has never been extended to a putative father who seeks to establish paternity with respect to a child born during the mother’s marriage to another man.”  Thus, “at least at this time,” the court stated, Grimes “has no constitutional due-process right to claim paternity . . . under the Revocation of Paternity Act or any other statute.”

The court similarly rejected Grimes’s equal protection claim.  Grimes argued that the Revocation of Paternity Act’s standing requirements for putative fathers are not also required of a child’s mother.  He alleged that these different burdens violated his equal protection rights.  However, the court explained that because of the fundamental biological differences between mothers and fathers, the identity of the mother is seldom in question, whereas the identity of the father may well be uncertain.  Accordingly, married mothers and putative fathers are not similarly situated.  Grimes’s inability to show the two groups were similarly situated precluded his equal protection claims.

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