Evidence Rebuts Presumption Of Paternity For Social Security


Sometimes lawyers remind their colleagues and clients that legal problems would arise less frequently if individuals would simply lead more orderly lives. Clarence Schoenfeld and family helped prove that basic legal maxim.

Clarence “Clay” Schoenfeld was 50 and a professor at the University of Wisconsin when he married graduate student Sheryl Smith in 1969. Prof. Schoenfeld had children from his first marriage, and he and his new wife agreed that they would not have children.

Eventually Mrs. Schoenfeld began to think she might want to have children after all. In 1978 she moved out of Prof. Schoenfeld’s home and began to look into the possibility of adoption or artificial insemination.

In 1979, on a vacation in Rome, Mrs. Schoenfeld met Michael Mandeville, who told her that he was a CIA operative and native Australian. Mr. Mandeville told Mrs. Schoenfeld that he would like to have children himself, but that his work prevented him from being a “traditional” father. The two agreed that they could solve one another’s dilemmas if Mrs. Schoenfeld was inseminated with Mr. Mandeville’s sperm.

Mrs. Schoenfeld used a syringe to complete the insemination and in October, 1980, her first child was born. Although Prof. and Mrs. Schoenfeld had been sexually intimate during the period of conception, the child’s birth certificate listed Mr. Mandeville as the father and he was given the Mandeville name. A month later Prof. and Mrs. Schoenfeld were legally separated, though not divorced.

In 1982 Mrs. Schoenfeld repeated the process, with the result that a child was born in October of that year. In May of 1985 her third child was born in the same manner. Mr. Mandeville was listed as the father on each birth certificate. Prof. Schoenfeld moved to a nursing home between the births of the second and third children, though he and Mrs. Schoenfeld were sexually intimate through the time of conception of each child.

Prof. Schoenfeld died in 1996. His widow applied to Social Security on behalf of her children for survivors benefits, and for herself as mother of his surviving children. After an initial round of hearings benefits were awarded, but the Social Security Administration ultimately determined that the children were not Prof. Schoenfeld’s and terminated benefits.

In Wisconsin as in most states (including Arizona), there is a strong presumption that children born during a marriage are the children of the mother’s husband. In this case, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on appeal, that presumption could be overcome by evidence of the actual paternity. Mrs. Schoenfeld’s children would not receive Social Security benefits as a result of her husband’s death. Schoenfeld v. Apfel, January 11, 2001.

Arizona law is similar to the law of Wisconsin. While there is a strong presumption that children born during a marriage are the children of the husband, it can be overcome by “clear and convincing” evidence to the contrary.

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