Girard v. Wagenmaker

Decision Date01 November 1990
Docket NumberNo. 85662,No. 4,85662,4
Citation470 N.W.2d 372,437 Mich. 231
PartiesLarry G. GIRARD, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Judy WAGENMAKER, Defendant-Appellant. Calendar,
CourtMichigan Supreme Court
OPINION

BRICKLEY, Justice.

The Court granted leave in this case to resolve two issues. 1 The first issue is whether the plaintiff, a putative father, has standing to bring an action under the Paternity Act as it existed in 1985, M.C.L. Secs. 722.711-722.730; M.S.A. Secs. 25.491-25.510, to determine the paternity of a child born while the mother was legally married to another man. 2 A second and similar issue to be decided if we find the Paternity Act unavailing to the plaintiff is whether a putative father has standing to bring the same action under the Child Custody Act, M.C.L. Secs. 722.21-722.28; M.S.A. Secs. 25.312(1)-25.312(8). 3 On the basis of our interpretation of the Paternity Act, we hold that the Legislature did not express an intention to grant a putative father standing to establish the paternity of a child born while the mother was legally married to another man without a prior determination that the mother's husband is not the father. We also conclude that a putative father does not have standing to make a similar claim under the Child Custody Act.

I. FACTS

This dispute began on May 10, 1985, when Larry Girard filed a complaint against Judy Wagenmaker, claiming that he was the father of a child conceived and born while Wagenmaker was married to her husband, Harvey Wagenmaker. The complaint by Girard acknowledged that Harvey Wagenmaker was the husband of Judy, but alleged that the child was not a child of the marriage. The complaint requested a determination of the child's paternity, an order of filiation if Girard was found to be the biological father of the child, visitation, and a determination of support.

Subsequently, on June 19, 1985, Harvey Wagenmaker filed a petition for intervention, stating that the child was conceived and born during his marriage with Wagenmaker, and that he continuously accepted and supported the child as his own. On the same day, Judy Wagenmaker filed a motion for summary disposition, alleging, as in this Court, that Girard did not establish that the child was "born out of wedlock," M.C.L. Sec. 722.711(1)(a); M.S.A. Sec. 25.491(1)(a). She argued that a prior determination by a circuit court of the issue whether a child was born out of wedlock was necessary to contest paternity, and that no such determination had been previously obtained.

In a written opinion, R. Max Daniels, presiding judge of the Muskegon Circuit Court, ruled that Girard did not have standing to bring a paternity action in the circuit court. Judge Daniels stated that most paternity claims generally arise when a divorce occurs, and, because this aspect was missing from the present case, Girard did not have standing under the Paternity Act. Judge Daniels declared that the words "which the court has determined" under the definition of child born out of wedlock, M.C.L. Sec. 722.711(a); M.S.A. Sec. 25.491(a), mean a prior determination that the child was born out of wedlock must be obtained before bringing a paternity action. Judge Daniels concluded that a "self-proclaimed father" did not have standing to seek a determination under the Paternity Act. In a supplemental opinion Judge Daniels also held that Girard had no standing under the Child Custody Act to ask for "visitation, custody or determination of paternity...." 4

On appeal, the Court of Appeals overturned the trial court's decision. 173 Mich.App. 735, 434 N.W.2d 227 (1988). In holding that a man claiming himself to be the biological father of a child had standing even if the mother is married to another man at the time of conception and birth, the Court of Appeals stated that a putative father does not "need a judicial determination that the child is a child born out of wedlock at the time that [the putative father] filed the complaint." Id. at 741, 434 N.W.2d 227. The Court of Appeals based its decision on a belief that the language "which the court has determined" in M.C.L. Sec. 722.711(a); M.S.A. Sec. 25.491(a) did not limit a putative father's standing. The Court found that the putative father's complaint is sufficient if "it alleges facts sufficient to show that the child is not the issue of the marriage and that plaintiff is the biological father of the child." Id. at 740, 434 N.W.2d 227. Therefore Girard had standing under the Paternity Act to seek a determination regarding the paternity of the child allegedly born out of wedlock. Id. at 741, 434 N.W.2d 227.

This Court granted leave to appeal to determine whether a putative father can obtain standing under either the Paternity Act or the Child Custody Act to dispute the paternity of a child born while the natural mother is married to another man. 435 Mich. 858, 458 N.W.2d 877 (1990).

II. THE PATERNITY ACT
A

Although this Court has previously reviewed the Paternity Act, this case presents a novel question. At issue is the following statutory language:

"The father or putative father of a child born out of wedlock may file a complaint in the circuit court in the county in which the child or mother resides or is found, praying for the entry of the order of filiation as provided for in section 7." M.C.L. Sec. 722.714(6); M.S.A. Sec. 25.494(6) (emphasis added).

" 'Child born out of wedlock' means a child begotten and born to a woman who was not married from the conception to the date of birth of the child, or a child which the court has determined to be a child born during a marriage but not the issue of that marriage." M.C.L. Sec. 722.711(a); M.S.A. Sec. 25.491(a) (emphasis added).

To determine whether Girard can bring an action under the Paternity Act, the Court must interpret the terms "which the court has determined" within the definition of a "[c]hild born out of wedlock," M.C.L. Sec. 722.711(a); M.S.A. Sec. 25.491(a).

The Court is bound by a number of rules of statutory construction when it interprets statutes. Although the proper construction of any statute is for the courts, Lakehead Pipe Line Co. v. Dehn, 340 Mich. 25, 35, 64 N.W.2d 903 (1954); Webster v. Rotary Electric Steel Co., 321 Mich. 526, 531, 33 N.W.2d 69 (1948), this Court must still give the statute a valid and reasonable construction that will reconcile any inconsistencies and give effect to all its parts. Aikins v. Dep't of Conservation, 387 Mich. 495, 499, 198 N.W.2d 304 (1972); see also In re Petition of State Hwy. Comm., 383 Mich. 709, 714-715, 178 N.W.2d 923 (1970) (citing Evans Products Co. v. State Bd. of Escheats, 307 Mich. 506, 12 N.W.2d 448 [1943]. While the words of a statute must be given their ordinary construction according to their common and approved usage, M.C.L. Sec. 8.3a; M.S.A. Sec. 2.212(1); 5 State ex rel. Wayne Co. Prosecuting Attorney v. Levenburg, 406 Mich. 455, 280 N.W.2d 810 (1979), the Court can also refer to the legislative intent in passing the statute to find an appropriate interpretation. Crawford v. School Dist. No. 6, 342 Mich. 564, 568, 70 N.W.2d 789 (1955) (citing In re School Dist. No. 6, Paris & Wyoming Twps, 284 Mich. 132, 143-144, 278 N.W. 792 [1938]. This legislative intent can be ascertained from examining the language of the act, the subject matter under consideration, the scope and purpose of the act, and other preceding statutes. Id.

In 1820, the Legislature enacted the first act similar to the Paternity Act. May 8, 1820 (1 Laws of the Territory of Michigan 640 [1871]. This act, entitled "AN ACT for the support and maintenance of Illegitimate Children," 1 Laws of the Territory of Michigan 643 (1871), underwent subsequent changes in 1827 and 1838. See 2 Laws of the Territory of Michigan 581 (1874); 1838 R.S., part 1, tit. IX, ch. 6. In 1846 the act was reentitled the Bastardy Act and further amendments followed over the years. 1846 R.S., tit. IX, ch. 42; 1857 C.L., tit. XV, ch. 43; 1871 C.L. 1973; 1882 How. Annot. Stat. 2004; 1897 C.L. 5901; 1915 C.L. 7753; 1929 C.L. 12910.

In 1941, the Bastardy Act of 1846 was amended to allow the father of an illegitimate child to bring a claim in the circuit court to prevent the issuance of a warrant of prosecution against the alleged father:

"The father of an illegitimate child may file a bill of complaint in the circuit court.... [T]he pendency of a bill of complaint filed therefor shall be a bar to the issuance of a warrant or prosecution thereof upon a complaint as authorized by this chapter, in case such complaint is made after the filing of such bill of complaint." 1941 P.A. 316, ch. 42, Sec. 12 (emphasis added).

In 1956, the Paternity Act underwent substantial revisions. 1956 P.A. 205, M.C.L. Secs. 722.711-722.730; M.S.A. Secs. 25.491-25.510. With these revisions the Legislature attempted to rid the statute of its criminal aspects. See Bowerman v. MacDonald, 431 Mich. 1, 5, 427 N.W.2d 477 (1988). Under the 1956 revisions, the Paternity Act allowed a father or putative father to file a complaint in the circuit court. 1956 P.A. 205, M.C.L. Sec. 722.714(f); M.S.A. Sec. 25.494(f). However, for the complaint to be proper, the Legislature required the plaintiff to be the father of a "child so born out of wedlock under this act...." Id. The history of the Paternity Act to this point not only shows the Legislature's concern with the support of illegitimate children, Artibee v. Cheboygan Circuit Judge, 397 Mich. 54, 243 N.W.2d 248 (1976), but also indicates that the Legislature, even while broadening the...

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