Maryland Courts Side With Father in Mother’s Legal Action that Sought to ‘Disestablish Paternity’

father and childWhen you think of a typical paternity case, the chances are you imagine a mother going to court seeking to use the authority of (and threat of punishment from) the legal system to force a father to take responsibility as a parent. Not all paternity issues are like that. In some cases, the father is fighting not to avoid responsibility but to avoid losing his rights to (and relationship with) the child he had loved and raised as his own for her entire life. Regardless of which scenario is yours, it is vital to make sure you have a knowledgeable Maryland paternity attorney working on your side.

A case that originated in Anne Arundel County and recently went before the Court of Special Appeals involved such a “non-typical” situation. Samantha and John lived together for three years but never married. In September 2012, Samantha gave birth to a daughter. The daughter’s birth certificate listed John as the father, and the daughter shared the father’s last name. Both John and Samantha signed an official form, called an Affidavit of Parentage, on which they attested that John was the girl’s biological father.

Two years later, the couple split up. For a year, they shared a 50-50 split custody arrangement. Then, in the fall of 2015, the mother went back to court. This time, she contended that John was not the daughter’s biological father. (Samantha had engaged in a brief sexual relationship with another man around the time of the daughter’s conception.) The mother wanted the court to order a DNA test to confirm her suspicion that the other man was, in fact, the father. As part of her case, Samantha alleged that both men had already taken paternity tests, and those tests showed that the other man, rather than John, was the biological parent.

John, who at all times in the girl’s life had been a very active and involved parent (and was actively litigating custody and visitation in a separate court case) asked the court to dismiss the paternity case. The trial judge agreed with John and dismissed the action.

The mother appealed, but she again lost. Why did she lose, without even getting to the point of a full hearing, in spite of the facts she alleged? One key thing was the affidavit of parentage, which carries significant legal weight. As the appeals court explained, the execution of an affidavit of parentage creates a legal finding of paternity. Thus, it carries the same force as if there were a court case and a judge made a legal finding of paternity. These affidavits are very significant and should never be signed lightly. In fact, it is likely worth your while to consult legal counsel before signing.

But Samantha and John did sign. Once the affidavit takes effect, there are limited ways for a mother to overcome it against a man who is the legal father named in the affidavit and who seeks to maintain his role as the legal father. The law permits overturning an affidavit in the circumstance of “fraud, duress or a material mistake of fact.” Samantha alleged that the last of these three applied to her situation. The courts did not agree. She was clearly not mistaken about her status as the child’s mother, and the law did not permit her to challenge as a mistake the legal finding of John’s paternity in a situation in which John had not done so himself (and strongly opposed doing so).

Whether you are a father seeking to maintain your relationship with your child, a man seeking a court ruling of non-paternity for a child who is not yours, or a mother seeking to obtain a proper resolution of parentage, paternity cases are serious matters that require skilled counsel. Knowledgeable Maryland child custody attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been helping parents and others with paternity and other family law cases for many years. To find out how this office can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Missing Procedural Steps Trip Up Maryland Father’s Effort to Change His Child’s Name, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 31, 2017

Maryland Mother’s Claims of Misrepresentation Not Enough to Lead Court to Order Paternity Testing, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 28, 2017

Photo Credit: sarahbernier3140, [CC0 License], via Pixabay

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