Paternity is a topic that was recently addressed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the case of K.E.M. v. P.C.S., 38 A.3d 798 (Pa. 2012). The K.E.M. decision added the “best interest of the child” analysis to Paternity, which is the current Pennsylvania standard in child custody cases. The K.E.M. decision also analyzed the Paternity by Estoppel doctrine and stated that this doctrine is still alive in Pennsylvania, but the Court noted that it will apply a best interest analysis to this doctrine. Read further to learn what Paternity by Estoppel is and how the Superior Court of Pennsylvania just analyzed this doctrine in a recent case.
What is Paternity by Estoppel?
Paternity by Estoppel occurs where a Father is holding a child or children out to be his own regardless of a biological relationship between the Father and the child(ren). “Holding the child out to be his own” can be demonstrated by evidence indicating that the “father” is spending time with the child, the child calls the man his/her Dad, or the “father” has represented to others that the child is his own child. In this situation, the “Father” is estopped or prevented from denying paternity in legal proceedings.
The Superior Court released an opinion related to this topic recently on April 4, 2013. In this case, P.A.P. v. T.A.P., No. 1932 MDA 2012 (April 4, 2013), the couple was married once, separated and divorced, and remarried years later. Father then separated from mother after their second marriage because he believed Mother was having an affair with another man. Mother and Father participated in a support conference in Berks County, PA where they could not agree on child support. After this conference, Father filed a petition seeking paternity testing to establish paternity with regard to the parties’ minor Child. The Court held a hearing on the paternity issue where it was established that Mother had a brief affair with another man. However, Mother insisted that Father was the biological father of the child. Father then conducted his own private paternity test which confirmed his suspicions that he was indeed not the father of the child.
However, after finding out that he was not the Child’s biological father, Father did not cease contact with the child. His custody periods were reduced, but he still spent time with the Child, brought the Child to his family events, and the Child called him “Daddy.” Father also claimed Child as a dependent on his Federal Income Tax Return. Based on these factors, the Court determined that the doctrine of Paternity by Estoppel applied and Father was estopped from denying paternity of Child because he had essentially held Child out to be his own. Father unsuccessfully argued that Paternity by Estoppel did not apply because of Fraud, which the Court will consider in a Paternity by Estoppel analysis. Father claims that Mother defrauded him and misrepresented to him that he was the Father and that she was not having any extra marital affairs. The Court also found that Father previously had suspicions as to whether or not he was the Child’s biological father and did nothing about them while he was fully aware of Mother’s previous unfaithfulness. Therefore, Paternity by Estoppel applied and Father was estopped from denying paternity. Although the Court did not specifically delve into the “best interest” analysis in this case, the facts in the opinion establish that Father and Child had a significant relationship and Child called him “Daddy” – which ultimately was the Court’s way of establishing that granting Father paternity was in the best interest of this child.
If you have questions about Paternity, Paternity by Estoppel, or Paternity Testing in Pennsylvania, contact our Pennsylvania Paternity Attorneys today.