380 U.S. 545 (1965), 149, Armstrong v. Manzo

Docket Nº:No. 149
Citation:380 U.S. 545, 85 S.Ct. 1187, 14 L.Ed.2d 62
Party Name:Armstrong v. Manzo
Case Date:April 27, 1965
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 545

380 U.S. 545 (1965)

85 S.Ct. 1187, 14 L.Ed.2d 62

Armstrong

v.

Manzo

No. 149

United States Supreme Court

April 27, 1965

Argued March 9, 1965

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS OF TEXAS,

EIGHTH SUPREME JUDICIAL DISTRICT

Syllabus

Petitioner and his wife were divorced by a Texas court. Custody of their only child was granted to the respondent mother, and petitioner was ordered to pay a monthly sum for the child's support. The mother thereafter married respondent Manzo, who, two years later, sought to become the child's adoptive father. State law requires the natural father's written consent to adoption, an exception existing if he has not substantially contributed to the child's support for two years commensurate with his financial ability. In that case, the written consent of the juvenile court judge in the county of the child's residence may be accepted. The mother filed an affidavit in her county juvenile court alleging petitioner's failure for more than two years to contribute to the child's support, and the judge consented to the adoption. Respondents, the same day, filed an adoption petition alleging that the natural father's consent was not necessary, because he had not contributed to the child's support commensurate with his ability for a period of over two years, and that the juvenile court judge had given his written consent. No notice of the affidavit or adoption petition was given to petitioner, though his whereabouts were well known to respondents. An adoption decree was later entered making Manzo the child's adoptive father, upon being advised of which petitioner filed a motion seeking to have the court annul its decree. A hearing was held at which petitioner introduced evidence that he had not failed to contribute to his child's support, but the court denied petitioner's motion. The appellate court affirmed notwithstanding petitioner's contention of deprivation of due process of law because of entry of the decree without notice, and the state supreme court refused review.

Held:

1. Failure to give petitioner notice of the pending adoption proceedings deprived him of his rights without due process of law. P. 550.

2. The hearing subsequently granted to petitioner did not remove the constitutional infirmity, since petitioner was forced to assume burdens of proof which, had he been accorded notice of the

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adoption proceedings, would have rested upon the moving parties. Pp. 550-552.

371 S.W.2d 407, reversed and remanded.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner, R. Wright Armstrong, Jr., and his wife were divorced by a Texas court in 1959. Custody of their only child, Molly Page Armstrong, was awarded to Mrs. Armstrong, and the petitioner was granted "the privilege of visiting with said child at reasonable times, places, and intervals." The divorce decree ordered the petitioner to pay $50 a month for his daughter's support. In 1960, Mrs. Armstrong married the respondent, Salvatore E. Manzo. Two years later, the Manzos filed a petition for adoption in the District Court of El Paso County, Texas, seeking to make Salvatore Manzo the legal father of Molly Page Armstrong.1

Texas law provides that an adoption such as this one shall not be permitted without the written consent of the child's natural father, except in certain specified [85 S.Ct. 1189] circumstances. One such exceptional circumstance is if the father "shall have not contributed substantially to the support of such child during (a) period of two (2) years commensurate with his financial ability." In that event, the written consent of the judge of the juvenile court of

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the county of the child's residence may be accepted by the adoption court in lieu of the father's consent.2

Preliminary to filing the adoption petition, Mrs. Manzo filed an affidavit in the juvenile court, alleging in conclusory terms that the petitioner had "failed to contribute to the support of" Molly Page Armstrong "for a period in excess of two years...

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