Establishing paternity or “parentage” is fundamental to a child’s life for many reasons. For one, parents are legally responsible for the care and general welfare of their children, including financial support. Paternity becomes even more important in cases in which the alleged parents are divorced or have never been married. There are several ways in which parties may establish parentage under Maryland law. For instance, the parents may agree to sign an affidavit in support of paternity, a court may find that paternity has been established, or the father may undergo DNA testing. Virtually every aspect of family law is governed by the state code or established case law. In order to be sure your financial and legal rights are protected, you are encouraged to discuss your case with an experienced Maryland family law attorney.
A recent Maryland Court of Appeals case illustrates how complicated paternity cases can be, and how important it is to work out the legal aspects as early in a child’s life as possible. In Davis v. Wicomico County Bureau, “petitioner” signed an Affidavit of Parentage shortly after the birth of his twin sons in 2009. The local child support agency brought a complaint against petitioner, alleging that he was responsible for child support payments. Petitioner, however, asked for a paternity test, claiming that he was not the children’s parent. Both the trial court and the court of special appeals denied his request for a paternity test. The court of special appeals concluded that under Sections 5-1028 and 5-1038, petitioner was not entitled to a blood or genetic test.
The highest Court in Maryland granted certiorari to determine, among other things, whether such DNA testing is mandated when demanded by a putative father who executed an affidavit of parentage when the children were born. The Court undertook a thorough review of the language of the affidavit and the legislative history of the two Family Code statutes at issue in this case. The Court found that under Section 5-1028 (paternity established by affidavit), parentage may be set aside only if the document was executed under duress, fraud, or a material mistake of fact. Here, petitioner had 60 days under the law to rescind the affidavit.
The Court of Appeals concluded that petitioner could not seek blood or genetic testing under these circumstances. For one, according to the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity creates a rebuttable presumption of paternity or, at the state’s option, a conclusive presumption of paternity. Section 1028 of the Maryland law was amended to explicitly remove the rebuttable presumption of paternity. The law now contains more restrictive language, allowing the document (affidavit) to be challenged only within 60 days of execution — or based upon proof of fraud, duress, or mistake of fact.
The Court pointed out that under these two statutes, there are limited opportunities to challenge an Affidavit of Parentage and that petitioner is not entitled to a blood or genetic test to challenge parentage after signing the affidavit. This case nicely illustrates the complicated nature of family law cases and how important it is to protect your rights from the outset. For help with your case, 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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