NBI Seminar: Child Custody and Visitation Rights: Questions of Paternity
As I have posted recently (see here), I had the great opportunity to lead (perhaps “teach”) a continuing legal education seminar hosted by the National Business Institute (a.k.a. NBI, see here). The subject was “Family Law From A to Z” and I had opportunity to speak on two main topics in particular: Custody and Ethics. I was joined by four other capable attorneys who each had their own topics to present.
Although NBI published the materials, I retain the ownership of the portions I wrote, which I will post here in this blog.
Copied below are the materials I wrote for the section entitled “Questions of Paternity.”
III. CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATION RIGHTS
C. Questions of Paternity
Historically the law regarding children born out-of-wedlock (i.e.: so-called “bastards”) was different than that regarding a child born into a family, which disadvantaged and stigmatized them. Now, however, by contrast, parents, no matter the circumstances of the birth of their children, all have equal rights under the law. The establishment of paternity entitles the person who is awarded it to custodial rights over the child-at-issue.
There are six ways in which paternity can be established: (1) voluntary acknowledgment; (2) stipulation to be bound to the results of a genetic test; (3) estoppel; (4) presumption; (5) hearing/trial; and, (6) failing to appear for testing, trial, and/or hearing for paternity. An action to determine paternity for a child born out of wedlock may be commenced at any time until the child turns eighteen years old.
A child born into a marriage is presumed to be the child of the father in that marriage and this presumption is typically only rebutted through showing impotence or the impossibility of sexual access. 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5104(g). In situations when a child is born out-of-wedlock, paternity may be determined by (1) the parents eventually marrying and/or (2) through clear and convincing evidence that the purported father has provided financial support and/or received the child into his home and has held the child out as his, and/or (3) clear and convincing evidence of actual paternity (e.g. positive paternity testing which is prima facia evidence of paternity). The presumption of paternity in the context of marriage is for the purpose of preserving stable family units for the children within them.
Of course, a putative father may also acknowledge paternity in a verified writing. This is often done at a child support conference/hearing where a man submits to a support order for a child he acknowledges as his own. If a man appears at a support hearing but refuses to acknowledge paternity, the court is to enter an order directing the parties to appear for genetic testing. Perhaps obviously, the mother is, by statute (23 Pa.C.S.A. §2513(c)) considered to be a competent witness to paternity. The putative father may contest the results of the genetic testing, but, to do so, he must marshal clear and convincing evidence that the test is somehow not reliable. If the test itself is not conclusive (i.e.: results in less than 99% probability), the court will schedule the matter for trial.
Estoppel occurs when a man holds a child out as his own regardless of biological relationship. It could also occur when a woman holds him out as the father despite biological relationship. Estoppel, basically, is the prohibition of denying paternity after holding a child out as one’s own, regardless of his relation to the child. Estoppel, at its essence, is designed to prevent putative fathers from denying parentage at some point in the future. “Hold out as his own” is typically evidenced by spending time with the child, living with the child, the child bearing the man’s name, the child calling him “dad,” the man representing to others he is the father, and so on. In situations such as this, this man will be estopped from denying paternity and genetic testing may not be admitted to contradict paternity. Relatedly, if a man other than the apparent father denies paternity, a mother may not pursue genetic testing on the alleged father due to the presence of the apparent father. Again, similar to the presumption from a marriage, it is believed permanency is in the best interests of the child. Furthermore, estoppel is most often applied in situations where a man has held himself out as a child’s father only to try and deny paternity when/if child support is ordered at some point in the future. As estoppel often relies upon timing (e.g.: failing to move immediately for genetic testing upon learning of a claim of paternity) the Pennsylvania Superior Court observed that the law is starting to soften on its application and stated “paternity by estoppel continues to pertain in Pennsylvania, but it will apply only where it can be shown, on a developed record, that it is in the best interests of the involved child.” T.E.D. v. C.A.B. v. P.D.K., Jr., 74 A.3d 170 (Pa.Super.2013).
There are times, of course, when more than one man claims to be the father of a child. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled on who may request a paternity test and/or challenge paternity and/or be denied the right to seek paternity. In the matter of Brinkley v. King, 549 Pa. 241 (1997) the Supreme Court, through a plurality opinion, laid out the required analysis to determine the paternity of a child conceived or born during a marriage. First, one must determine whether the marriage presumption of paternity applies and, if so, whether it has been rebutted. Second, if the presumption has been rebutted, one must then determine if estoppel applies to bar either a plaintiff from making a claim or a defendant from denying paternity.
The underlying principle of the presumption is the preservation of marriage, in other words, the protection of an intact family. If the presumption does not apply one must then determine whether the man seeking paternity is estopped from attempting to strip another man’s claim to paternity of a child born during marriage and/or held out as his own. It should be noted that one’s delay or inactivity in seeking paternity may bar him from doing so. Again, best interests – in this instance the stability of a child’s life – is paramount.
Of course, there are times when fraud is claimed regarding paternity and, if demonstrated, the argument of estoppel could be precluded. In order to successfully argue fraud, a party must demonstrate: (1) a misrepresentation; (2) a fraudulent utterance; (3) intention to induce action by the recipient; (4) justifiable reliance on the utterance; and, (5) damages.
- R.C.P. 1910.15
- 23 Pa.C.S.A. §2313
- 23 Pa.C.S.A. §2502
- 23 Pa.C.S.A. §2513
- 23 Pa.C.S.A. §4343
- 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5102
- 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5103
- 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5104
- Rosado v. Diaz, 425 Pa.Super. 155 (1993)
- Liebner v. Simcox, 834 A.2d 606 (Pa.Super.2003)
- Karner v. McMahon, 640 A.2d 926 (1994)
- John M. v. Paul T., 524 Pa. 306 (1990)
- Freeman v. McCandless, 539 Pa. 584 (1995)
- Buccieri v. Campagna, 889 A.2d 1220 (Pa.Super.2005)
- Conroy v. Rosenwald, 940 A.2d 409 (Pa.Super.2007)
- Warfield v. Warfield, 815 A.2d 1073 (Pa.Super.2003)
- Hamilton v. Hamilton, 795 A.2d 403 (Pa.Super.2002)
- Gebler v. Gatti, 895 A.2d 1 (Pa.Super.2006)
- O. v. C.O., 404 Pa.Super. 127 (1991)