In Maryland, there are two statutory schemes that govern whether paternity testing should occur. One of them, the Paternity subtitle of the Family Law Article, describes procedures that allow the state to establish paternity and require fathers to pay child support.
Under this section, there is a presumption that a child is the child of the man to whom the mother was married when he or she was conceived. This presumption can be rebutted. The mother, father or child can be required to take a blood or genetic test to see if the person being claimed to be the father may be excluded.
The Estates and Trusts Article presumes that the child born or conceived during a couple’s marriage is the legitimate child of each spouse. The purpose of the presumption is to reduce the cost of administering an estate. The trial court has the discretion to decide whether testing requested by a motion is in the child’s best interests or not.
Last year, in Mulligan v. Corbett, the appellate court considered whether someone who believes he is the father of a child conceived while the mother was married to another man has an absolute right to genetic testing.
The case arose after two people married in 1999 and had three children. Several years later, they separated and reached an agreement about their existing children. Nonetheless the couple lived together in the family home and had sex for two months in 2009. The mother (“Petitioner” in this case) then filed for divorce and started seeing a man she’d known in her youth (“Respondent” in this case).
They attempted to have a child together and the mother announced she had conceived a month later. The Petitioner moved with her new partner to Pennsylvania, but the relationship ended. She moved back to Maryland and the divorce was finalized.
The Petitioner had her new baby at the start of the next year. When she told the Respondent and asked him to sign the parentage affidavit for the birth certificate. He refused to do so without being certain and left the hospital, and that was the last time the mother talked to him. Meanwhile, the mother’s first husband said he would take on the role of parenting the baby, but his name didn’t appear on the affidavit attached to the birth certificate.
Later a letter arrived from the Respondent. In the letter, he told her he wanted to have it legally recognized he was the girl’s father and have some of the rights and privileges attached to fatherhood. He asked for genetic testing. When the mother didn’t respond, the Respondent filed a complaint for paternity.
The Respondent argued that the child had the right to know her actual father. The Petitioner moved to dismiss the case. The Respondent argued that the baby was conceived after the Petitioner and her first husband separated and the child was born after they divorced. At a hearing, the Petitioner acknowledged that the Respondent might be the biological father, but her first husband was the child’s legal father.
Relying on the Estates and Trusts article that gave him discretion as to whether to allow testing, the circuit court denied the Respondent’s request for paternity testing. Noting that the Respondent had forced the Petitioner out of their shared home, he ordered that the mother’s husband was the child’s legal father.
The Respondent appealed and presented several issues, one of which was whether he was entitled to paternity testing. The Court of Special Appeals reversed on the grounds that the baby had been born out of wedlock and therefore the Family Law Article applied.
The Supreme Court of Maryland reasoned that both of the statutory schemes that control court-ordered paternity testing are aimed at legitimating children born out of wedlock. None of the appellate cases that addressed such issues were directly on point.
The Supreme Court reasoned that when a child is born to a mother who isn’t married during conception or gestation, there isn’t a presumption of legitimacy. Here the child was conceived during the marriage. Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded, the circuit court was right to look at the best interests of the child. A self-proclaimed father seeking blood testing to de-legitimate a legitimate child would have to show the blood testing was in the child’s best interest.
The facts of the case related above are extremely complicated, but even when a case is less complicated, they can be extremely difficult for parents and children. If you are going through a difficult family law problem, contact our office via the online form for a legal consultation.
Maryland Court Rules Parent Cannot Bargain Away Child Support Without Court Approval, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 16, 2013
Maryland Court Decides Railroad Retirement Benefit Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 11, 2013