The Walking Dead: Who Is Judith’s Legal Father?

AMC’s The Walking Dead recently premiered its season 8 debut.  For the uninitiated, The Walking Dead follows former deputy sheriff Rick Grimes and others as they navigate a post-apocalyptic world of zombies (which they call “walkers”).

The Human Element of The Walking Dead

Even more interesting than interactions with the walkers, the show focuses in on the interaction between people.  Rick and the gang have fought off a host of bad guys.  A one-eyed psychotic governor.  Bar-B-Que loving cannibals.  Most recently, a baseball bat-wielding sadist with a sophomoric sense of humor.

But the most fascinating part of the show may just be its human drama surrounding relationships between Rick and his family.  Last season, Rick made a startling admission to Michone.  Michone is a samurai sword brandishing badass and Rick’s current love interest.  The admission concerned Rick’s daughter, Judith.

When the apocalypse started, Rick had been separated from his wife, Lori.  Lori escaped the initial chaos with Rick’s best friend, Shane.  Shane and Lori thought Rick had died with the initial wave of walkers, and Shane and Lori became romantically involved.

Lori and Shane’s relationship ended when they learned Rick was still alive.  Inevitably, tensions rose between Shane and Rick, which lead to Rick killing Shane.  Eventually, Lori gave birth to a child, Judith, though Lori did not survive the birth.

Which brings us back to Rick’s admission to Michone.  Rick tells Michone he knows that Shane is Judith’s biological father.

So who is Judith’s legal father?

If this story were to take place in a pre-apocalyptic Florida, the answer would be clear:  Rick is Judith’s legal father.

Legal Analysis of Judith’s Paternity

The law goes to great lengths in an attempt to hold children legitimate.  See, i.e., Smith v. Wise, 234 So. 2d 145, 146 (Fla. 3d DCA 1970) (reversing a trial court’s determination that a child was illegitimate, where a child was born 283 days after a divorce was finalized, the parties testified that they had sexual relations with one another a month prior to the finalization, and the child could have been conceived prior to the finalization of the divorce).

The presumption of legitimacy is one of the strongest presumptions known to law. Gammon v. Cobb, 335 So. 2d 261, 264 Fla. 1976); Elridge v. Elridge, 16 So. 2d 163 (1944); Gossett v. Ullendorff, 154 So. 177, 181 (Fla. 1934).

This presumption protects the legal father over a biological putative father. IA v. HH, 710 So. 2d 162, 165 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998) (holding that, even if a child was born just before a marriage, the husband as a reputed parent should be established as a legal parent and therefore be protected from a legal attack from a putative biological parent); GFC v. SG, 686 So. 2d 1382, 1386-87 (Fla. 5th DCA 1997) (affirming a trial court’s dismissal of an action for paternity by a putative biological father where the child was born during an intact marriage).

In this case, it really does not matter that Shane was Judith’s biological father.  Because Judith was born during an intact marriage between Rick and Lori, Rick would be considered Judith’s legal father.

Legal Parent Rights and Responsibilities

This means that Rick, and not Shane, would be entitled to a custody schedule (also known as a time-sharing schedule) with Judith.  Rick, and not Shane, would be entitled to make major decisions concerning Judith, such as the type of healthcare treatment Judith receives.  This also means that Rick, and not Shane, would be responsible for financially supporting Judith.

So Rick could rest assured that if Shane were to rise from the dead, Shane’s claims of paternity in all likelihood would be dismissed.

Adam B. Cordover now practices exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution.  He is an international leader in collaborative practice and the peaceful resolution of family disputes.