Sometimes It's Not about the Money

In December of 2014, Susan was 69 years old. She brought a cause of action to establish a parental relationship from a man [Man] who had died 19 years before. She wanted to have him declared as her putative father. She filed her petition against the executor of Man’s estate, but later agreed to substitute a special administrator [Administrator] in place of the executor.

A putative father is thepresumed father and is the legal father. He has all the rights and responsibilities of a father, even if he is not the biological father.

Man died in 1985. He had a will. The will was executed and probated was completed by 1993.

Susan’s petition stated that she did not want any money or share in Man’s estate. She only wanted the court to establish that he was her putative father.

Administrator moved to dismiss Susan’s petition because she gave no argument that the court could help her with. She wanted the court to determine that Man was her father with no request for any relief or payments of any kind. Administrator specifically argued that Susan “does not stand to suffer any degree of injury in this matter, and only seeks to invoke the judicial process for apparently personal reasons.” Without some sort of injury, the court has nothing to resolve.

The trial court agreed with Administrator: “Here, Petitioner is not a young child whose social and emotional strength and stability are at issue. The probate estate is closed precluding any financial interest in the deceased’s estate. Petitioner does not have a social relationship to maintain or create. The object of the paternity laws to protect a child’s well-being is not achieved by this suit. As her stated father has long since died, he cannot accept or contest the claim of paternity.”

Susan appealed.

The Appellate Court agreed with Susan

“The establishment of the parent-child relationship is the most fundamental right a child possesses to be equated in importance with personal liberty and the most basic of constitutional rights…. This leads to the conclusion that [Susan] has a personal stake in the outcome of the paternity action, [that is] the accurate identification of her father and other collateral benefits such as the ability to amend her birth certificate and to develop a relationship with family members.”

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