State courts take very seriously the issue of child support in any family law proceeding. Certain local agencies even have the authority to file a complaint against a party who has not met his or her obligation to make child support payments under a court order. This authority serves to protect the financial interests and overall well-being of a child, who is unable to advocate for him or herself. In most cases, it is clear who is obligated to make such payments: one or both of the child’s parents. But there have been cases in which the issue of “parentage” or paternity has come into question, resulting in a further question as to who is obligated to financially support the child. If you are facing any family law issue, including child custody or support matters, it is important that you contact a local Maryland attorney who is fully experienced in the field.
Establishing paternity is the first step to securing a child support order. In a recent Maryland family law case, Davis v. Wicomico County Bureau of Support Enforcement, the local agency sought to enforce a child support order issued against the “father,” Justin Davis (appellant in this case). Here, the mother, Jessica Cook, gave birth to twins in December 2009. Shortly after the birth, both parties, Davis and Cook, signed affidavits of parentage, attesting that Davis was the “natural father” of the twins. They were given his last name.
In July 2011, the Bureau of Support Enforcement (the “Bureau”) filed a complaint against Davis seeking child support based on the parentage affidavits. Davis replied with a letter (deemed an “answer” by the court) denying that he was the father and that he owed child support to Cook. He asked the court to administer a paternity test. The Bureau argued that under Family Law Section 5-1038, a person who signs an affidavit of parentage has 60 days to rescind the document. Otherwise, any challenge to the affidavit must be based on fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact. The court concluded that Davis voluntarily signed the affidavit and that there was no evidence suggesting fraud and the like. The court then ordered Davis to pay monthly child support to Cook. He did not appeal the decision.
Approximately two years later, Davis filed a complaint, once again asking the court to order a blood test under Sections 5-1029 and 5-1038 and to strike the child support order. The Bureau moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing: 1) that Davis’ claims were barred by res judicata; and 2) the statute does not apply to situations where one party signed an affidavit of parentage. The court granted the Bureau’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that, under the statute’s unambiguous language, the right to a blood test only applies to set aside a judicial determination of paternity, not to paternity established by affidavit. Furthermore, the court held that Davis waived his right to a blood test by failing to appeal the earlier decision.
The court of appeals affirmed the decision, finding that Davis’ arguments were indeed barred by res judicata. Furthermore, the court agreed with the lower court that the plain language of the statute only allows Davis to set aside the paternity determination by a finding of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact, and not by a blood test.
Child support cases are complicated and governed by a variety of state laws. It is important to understand your legal rights, as well as your child’s rights, as early in a case as possible. Anthony A. Fatemi is a Maryland family law attorney with experience representing parties in divorce and related matters. For representation and legal guidance, you can contact Mr. Fatemi at (888) 519-2801 or (301) 519-2801.
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