When can a Man who has not Fathered or Adopted a Child be Required to Support the Child?

It might not seem fair to some, but Pennsylvania has long recognized that a man who holds himself out as the father of a minor child for a substantial period of time may be estopped or foreclosed from denying paternity, even where forensic or scientific evidence proves beyond any doubt that the man is not, in fact, the biological father.  It might seem that the mother or other guardian or custodian of the child in being allowed to extract revenue from someone not the father and, particularly, if it is an unfaithful wife, this may seem wrong.  But the right to support does not belong to the mother, guardian or custodians; it belongs to the innocent minor child.

Recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reaffirmed paternal estoppel and explained the law.  In the case of R.K.J. v. S.P.K., Judge Musmanno, for the Superior Court, affirmed the application of the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas of the doctrine of paternity by estoppel.

In R.K.J. v. S.P.K., child support was ordered over the objection of the Obligee who, without question, was not the biological father and did not want to pay support.  But the Obligee was present at the child’s birth, lived with the child and his mother for the first six (6) years of his life and, during those six (6) years claimed the child as his dependent for tax purposes.  Obligee held himself out to the public as the father of the child, even though he and the child’s mother knew he was not the biological father.

After the Obligee and mom broke up, mother filed a claim for support and the Obligee denied paternity.

On appeal to the Superior Court, Obligee says the trial court only determined it was in the child’s economic interest to get support from him.  He asserted the standard required is not economic interest, but rather is psychological best interest.

The Superior Court said that the principal good to serve the best interest of the child.  Quoting the Supreme Court, the Superior Court said:

“Absent any overriding equities in favor of the putative father, such as fraud, the law cannot permit a party to renounce even an assumed duty of parentage when by doing so, the innocent child would be victimized.  Relying upon the representation of the parental relationship, a child naturally and normally extends his love and affection to the putative parent.”

The Court concluded that paternity by estoppel “continues to pertain in Pennsylvania, but it will apply only where it can be shown, on a developed record, that it is in the best interests of the involved child.”

A party will not be allowed to renounce paternity which victimizes the child.  The court must allow a putative father to exercise his legal rights.  The court will consider the closeness of the child’s relationship to the putative father and the harm that would come to the child if the putative father was allowed to renounce his relationship.  Finally, the court considers the child’s need to continuity, financial support and psychological security arising from an established parent-child relationship.