The stigma of bastardy lasted a lifetime and could blight the lives of the next generation, as witnessed by the heraldic bend (or bar) sinister on the family crest, designating bastardy. In addition to inheritance, a bastard was denied entrance into several callings and certain civil rights. These harsh laws persisted until relatively recent times in England and the United States. The stigma of bastardy was such that the common law developed legal presumptions in favor of legitimacy.
The Michael H. case is a good, if unusual, example of this legal rule. Carole and Gerald were married. During this marriage, Carole had an adulterous affair with Michael. Sometime after this affair, the child Victoria was born. During a brief separation from her husband, Carole and Michael had blood tests performed to determine Victoria's paternity. The tests established, according to the evidence presented to the court, a 98 percent probability that Michael was Victoria's father. After a period of living with Michael and treating Victoria as Michael's daughter, Carole reconciled with Gerald. Michael, as probable biologic father of Victoria, sought visitation rights with Victoria.The California law, which was more than a century old, held that "the issue of a wife cohabiting with her husband, who is not impotent or sterile, is conclusively presumed to be a child of the marriage." Subsequent revisions allowed this presumption to be "rebutted by blood tests, but only if a motion for such tests is made, within two years from the date of the child's birth, either by the husband or, if the natural father has filed an affidavit acknowledging paternity, by the wife." Gerald had always acknowledged Victoria as his daughter. Carole, having reconciled with Gerald, also refused to request the court to examine Victoria's paternity. Michael, as the probable biologic father, argued that this law denied him a constitutional right to establish a parental relationship with his daughter. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the California law as a valid exercise of the state's right to protect the family relationship. The Court made it clear that biologic parenthood did not supersede legal parenthood as defined by a state statute reflecting the common law tradition. Michael H. and Victoria D., Appellants v. Gerald D. 491 U.S. 110 (1989).
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