While the New York Family Court Act allows paternity proceedings to be initiated at any point from the time of pregnancy until the child in question is 21-years-old, there is at least one instance in which such proceedings will be halted.
That is due to equitable estoppel when such a revelation would not be in the best interests of the child. In essence, this measure allows for the protection of either:
- The presumption of legitimacy of a child born to a married woman
- To protect an already-recognized child-father relationship that has been established
In both cases, the key deciding factor is what is best for the child. Some of the potential relevant factors could include:
- The importance for a child to know the true identify of the biological parent
- Possible trauma that paternity testing may have on the child
- Whether the child’s knowledge of actual paternity could affect the child’s relationship with the father
Our Brooklyn family law attorneys know estoppel of paternity is not one the courts take lightly, and whether you are fighting against it or arguing for it, you will need a legal team with experience to effectively further your cause.
An example was recently raised in the case of Matter of Richard A.M. v. Alejandra H. before the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Second Department.
According to the decision, petitioner claimed to be the father of a child born in July 2008. Petitioner and the child’s mother never married. Within just a few months of the child’s birth, the child’s mother began dating another man, whom she eventually married. That man established a parent-child relationship with the child in question.
In 2012, four years after the child was born, petitioner initiated a proceeding to establish paternity. A hearing was held to determine whether petitioner should be equitably estopped from asserting paternity. Family court judge ultimately denied paternity petition on the grounds of equitable estoppel.
Citing a series of prior decisions, including Matter of Ettore I. v. Angela D. and Matter of Juanita A. v. Kenneth Mark N., the court pointed out a defense of estoppel is allowable in instances where there is a failure to timely assert a right giving rise to the circumstances, thus rendering it inequitable to permit exercise of the right following the time lapse.
In Richard M. case, the appellate court upon review reasoned the petitioner knew about the child’s birth when it occurred and he was also aware he might be the father. He also knew the child had formed a strong bond with another man acting as the child’s father. And yet, the proceeding for paternity testing didn’t begin until the child was almost 4-years-old.
The court did not there were five other prior paternity proceedings initiated by this same petitioner and all were previously dismissed. The reason? He failed to appear in court.
On the basis of these circumstances, the appellate court ruled the family court was correct in its determination that it was in the child’s best interests to equitably estop the paternity claim and dismiss it.
If you are contemplating a paternity test in Brooklyn, call our offices at (718) 864-2011.
Matter of Richard A.M. v. Alejandra H. , Dec. 31, 2014, Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Second Department.
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