Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246 (1978) (unwed fathers)
This case established the rule that where an unwed father lacks a custodial or legal relationship with the child, despite having had ample time to pursue one, the state can give him less authority to veto an adoption than it gives a man who fathered the child in a marriage.
Under Georgia law, a father of a child born out of wedlock could veto the adoption only if he had legitimated the child. A married or divorced father could automatically veto the adoption unless found unfit.
In Quilloin, the child was born out of wedlock and lived only with the mother. When the child was three years old the mother married another man. Eight years later, the husband petitioned to adopt the child. Before then, the unwed father had visited the child many times but had provided child support on an irregular basis. Only after the adoption petition was filed did the unwed father seek visiting rights and legitimization (establishing paternity). The Georgia court granted the adoption based on the child's best interest.
The U.S. Supreme Court held that the father's rights were not violated when the Georgia court applied a "best interests of the child" standard instead of a fitness standard because the father had never sought custody of the child in eleven years and the adoption aimed to formalize an already existing family unit. Under those facts, the state could apply a child's best interest analysis, rather than a fitness test, in deciding whether to order the adoption.
Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. 380 (1979) (unwed fathers)
This case established the rule that unwed mothers and unwed fathers must be treated the same where the father has a substantial relationship with the child.
New York let only mothers block adoptions of children born out of wedlock, regardless of the relationship between the children and the natural father.
In Caban, the unwed mother and father lived together for five years and had two children. The father was listed on the birth certificate. When the children were four and two years old, the couple separated, though the father visited the children regularly. The mother then married another man who petitioned to adopt the children. The unwed father opposed the adoption. The trial court granted the adoption based on the children's best interest.
The U.S. Supreme Court held that the statute violated the equal protection clause because the father had a relationship with the children fully comparable to that of the mother. The state therefore could not give the mother an absolute veto, while forcing the father to show child's best interest before he could retain parental rights. The court distinguished the case from those where the father had never helped rear the child.