deference to past formalities, it needlessly risks running roughshod over the important interests
of both parent and child.” 72
The California Supreme Court likewise warned against using blanket presumptions in In
re Adoption of Kelsey S., 73 which involved a group of laws that allowed birth mothers and their
husbands to object to adoptions, but did not allow unmarried fathers to do so. The court found
this irrational, because although the “constitutionally valid objective [was] the protection of the
child’s well-being,” the state could not simply presume that “a child is inherently better served
by adoptive parents than by a single, biological father.” 74 That crude presumption “bears no
substantial relationship to protecting the well-being of children.” 75 The court gave an example:
“[a] father who is indisputably ready, willing, and able to exercise the full measure of his
parental responsibilities can have his rights terminated merely on a showing that his child’s best
interest would be served by adoption,” whereas the mother’s rights were far more protected, even
if she were “unready, unwilling, and unable” to care for the child. 76 The statutory distinction
therefore “largely ignored” the “child’s best interest.” 77
Of course, a presumption in favor of a father can also run afoul of the “best interests
standard.” In Dickason v. Sturdavan, 78 the Arizona Supreme Court recognized that while a
father may ordinarily be presumed to be the best caretaker of his child (because the “voice of
nature, which declares that the father is the natural guardian of the minor child, cannot be
silenced”), 79 there may be cases in which fathers are unsuitable. Because the child’s welfare is
72 Id. at 656–57.
73 1 Cal. 4th 816 (1992).
74 Id. at 845–46.
75 Id. at 847.
78 50 Ariz. 382 (1937).
79 Id. at 386 (quoting Harper v. Tipple, 21 Ariz 41, 44 (1919)).