J.R.A. v. G.N.A., Ky COA, Paternity By Estoppel

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J.R.A. v. G.N.A. , 2009-CA-001709-ME

Issue:  Reversal of family court holding that father was equitably estopped from

denying paternity.

Published:  Reversed and Remanded

County:  Jefferson

 

When family court adjudicated appellant the legal father of appellee’s child, he brought this appeal.

 

Three days after appellee married her first husband, S.L.S., she gave birth to a daughter, D.A.S. and the child took the last name of S.L.S.  When appellee and S.L.S. divorced a year later, the decree made no reference to any children of the marriage, and appellee testified that S.L.S. was not the child’s biological father.

 

Three years later appellee and appellant were married.  The next year the parties filed a Declaration of Paternity with the State Registrar of Vital Statistics with an affidavit stating that appellant was the biological father of D.A.S.  The child’s last name was changed to that of appellant.

 

After another three years, appellant filed a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and moved for a hearing to determine his paternity rights and obligations.  He averred that he was not the biological father of D.A.S. and that both parties were aware of that fact when they executed the Declaration of paternity which he said was only signed to obtain insurance coverage for the child through his employer.  Appellee admitted appellant was not the biological father but claimed he should be estopped from denying parentage because he had assumed a parental relationship with the child and held himself out as the father.  Family Court concluded that appellant was equitably estopped from denying paternity and that he was the child’s father with all the rights and responsibilities of a natural parent.

 

The doctrine of paternity by estoppel was recognized in Kentucky in S.R.D. v. T.L.B., 174 SW 3d 502 (Ky. App. 2005) and requires conduct, including acts, language and silence, amounting to a representation or concealment of material facts, the estopped party is aware of these facts, these facts are unknown to the other party, the estopped party must act with the intention or expectation his conduct will be acted upon, and the other party relied on this conduct to his detriment.

 

The CA distinguished the instant case because since the child was not born during the marriage, there was no presumption of paternity, and more importantly, the child knew appellant was not her biological father.  When appellant married the child’s mother, he became the stepfather.  The affidavit of paternity created a rebuttable presumption of paternity, but since both parties admitted the affidavit was false, the presumption was clearly rebutted.  The only method by which a stepparent acquires the legal status of parent is by adoption which requires termination of the parental rights of the biological parent.  Since none of these events occurred to establish appellant’s legal relationship as father of D.A.S., the family court’s Order was reversed and remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

 

 

Digested by Sandra G. Ragland, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates

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