Quilloin v. Walcott
434 U.S. 246 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246 (1978)

Quilloin v. Walcott

No. 76-6372

Argued November 9, 1977

Decided January 10, 1978

434 U.S. 246

Syllabus

Under Georgia law no adoption of a child born in wedlock is permitted without the consent of each living parent (including divorced or separated parents) who has not voluntarily surrendered rights in the child or been adjudicated an unfit parent. In contrast, §§ 74-403(3) and 74-203 of the Georgia Code provide that only the mother's consent is required for the adoption of an illegitimate child. However, the father may acquire veto authority over the adoption if he has legitimated the child pursuant to § 74-103 of the Code. These provisions were applied to deny appellant, the father of an illegitimate child, authority to prevent the adoption of the child by the husband of the child's mother. Until the adoption petition was filed, appellant had not attempted to legitimate the child, who had always been in the mother's custody and was then living with the mother and her husband, appellees. In opposing the adoption, appellant, seeking to legitimate the child but not to secure custody, claimed that §§ 74-203 and 74-403(3), as applied to his case, violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The trial court, granting the adoption on the ground that it was in the "best interests of the child" and that legitimation by appellant was not, rejected appellant's constitutional claims, and the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed.

Held:

1. Under the circumstances, appellant's substantive rights under the Due Process Clause were not violated by application of a "best interests of the child" standard. This is not a case in which the unwed father at any time had, or sought, custody of his child, or in which the proposed adoption would place the child with a new set of parents with whom the child had never lived. Rather, the result of adoption here is to give full recognition to an existing family unit. Pp. 434 U. S. 254-255.

2. Equal protection principles do not require that appellant's authority to veto an adoption be measured by the same standard as is applied to a divorced father, from whose interests appellant's interests are readily distinguishable. The State was not foreclosed from recognizing the difference in the extent of commitment to a child's welfare between that of appellant., an unwed father who has never shouldered any significant responsibility for the child's rearing, and that of a divorced father who

Page 434 U. S. 247

at least will have borne full responsibility for his child's rearing during the period of marriage. Pp. 434 U. S. 255-256.

238 Ga. 230, 232 S.E.2d 246, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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