Teen Sues Mother for ID of FatherThe National Law Journal, U.S.A., By Tresa Baldas, August 11, 2006
In a case that family law experts fear could set a dangerous precedent, a Michigan teenager is suing his mother to learn the identity of his father.
Family law attorneys say the issue of compelling a mother to reveal the identity of the biological father is a new area of law. And depending on how the Michigan judge rules in the case, they say, courts nationally could see a new flood of lawsuits of children suing their parents.
"You are opening the floodgates of litigation," said Richard Crouch of Crouch & Crouch in Arlington, Va., who has been practicing family law for more than 30 years and has sat on several American Bar Association and Virginia State Bar family law committees. "The courts haven't got any business concerning themselves with this area, even if there are health concerns. You're opening up too large an area where a lot of the litigation would be useless and frivolous."
Family law practitioner Laura Morgan of Family Law Consulting in Charlottesville, Va., cited similar concerns, saying that the Michigan case could trigger lawsuits by angry ex-husbands who will convince kids to sue to find out who their biological fathers are.
"The concern is that children will be manipulated by their legal fathers into suing their mothers for this kind of information," Morgan said. "Too few future cases would be about legitimate health concerns, and too many would be an unhappy ex-husband manipulating a child."
Jeff Atkinson, past chair of the ABA Section of Family Law's custody committee, acknowledged a child's right to know his or her biological roots, but said the courts also have the privacy interests of the mother, the biological father and the child to consider. Barring an emergency, Atkinson said, a court should wait until the child is 18 before requiring the mother to reveal the father's identity.
LEGAL RIGHT ASSERTED
But Michigan attorney Henry Baskin of the Baskin Law Firm in Birmingham, Mich., wants answers now.
He claims that his client -- now 17 -- has a legal right to know who his biological father is, particularly for health reasons. Minor J. v. John Doe, No. 06-2342 DP (Macomb Co., Mich., Cir. Ct.).
The teen, known as "Minor J." in court records, wants to check for any family illnesses. And the U.S. Constitution, Baskin argues, guarantees him the right to know that information, as does the U.S. Supreme Court. He cited a 1973 Supreme Court ruling, Gomez v. Torres, 409 U.S. 5353, in which the court held that an illegitimate child has a legal right to sue his father for support because he's entitled to equal protection under the law.
"What my case is really about is: 'Do I have the right to find out who my biological father is?'" said Baskin, who argued his case on July 24. "To argue that there is no law that supports my position is ridiculous."
According to attorneys for both sides, Minor J. learned in 2004 from two DNA tests that his mother's ex-husband -- the man he thought was his father -- was not his biological parent. The parents had divorced in 1995. In 2004, the ex-husband went to court to end child support payments after DNA tests revealed he wasn't the father.
The court rejected his claim, saying it didn't matter whether he was the biological father. He had raised the child, was deemed to be the legal parent and the payments would have to continue.
Then two years later, in May, came the boy's paternity suit, which the ex-husband is helping him pursue.
The mother's attorney, Alicia Putman of Mihelich & Kavanaugh in Eastpointe, Mich., has sought a motion to dismiss the suit. She said her client doesn't believe that the DNA tests were accurate. They were never witnessed, she said, nor authenticated.
More over, Putman added, the mother believes that her ex-husband is the boy's father.
"At this point she's adamant about it and she knows best as to what her history has been," Putman said.
Putman's legal argument rests on the legitimacy of Minor J. She claims he is a legitimate child who has no standing to sue. She cited a 1988 Michigan Court of Appeals case, Puffpaff v. Hull, 169 Mich App. 688, in which the court held that a legitimate child does not have standing to pursue a paternity action. She also cited Michigan's Paternity Act, which holds that only illegitimate children can sue to have child support established.