Monday, July 31, 2006

paternity by estoppel

Moyer v. Gresh - Superior Court - July 26, 2006

Superior Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the natural father (NF) of a 16 year-old boy. MM, as a party in plaintiff/appellee's case asking for primary custody, on the grounds that plaintiff's paternity of MM was established by estoppel.

Plaintiff "was the only father that MM knew during the first nine years of his life" and continued to be actively involved (including carrying health insurance for the child) after Plaintiff and MM's natural mother separated and she married the child's biological father. MM refers to Plaintiff as his father when talking to friends and calls both father in the presence of each. MM said that he wants to live primarily with Plaintiff. The trial court resolved credibility issues in favor of Plaintiff.

The court applied the doctrine of paternity by estoppel (PBE) and upheld the dismissal NF as a party, even though DNA tests established NF as MM's natural father. Under the doctrine of PBE, DNA and blood tests "may be irrelevant." The doctrine is "designed to protect the best interests of minor children by allowing them to be secure in knowing who their parents are....It is grounded in a fairness principle that those who mislead a child as to the identity of his natural father cannot hen turn around and disprove their own fiction to the detriment of the child." The court found that this result was "also in accord with MM's best interests....MM considers Plaintiff to be his father and wishes to live primarily with him."

Here, appellant NF "voluntarily relinquished his parents rights and duties to Plaintiff during the first nine years of MM's life, and allowed Plaintiff to continue supporting MM when MM was living with" natural mother and NF, the appellants