Paternity by Estoppel

Shondel J. v. Mark D., a New York Court of Appeals case, reaffirmed the applicability of paternity by estoppel in the case of a young man who mistakenly represented himself as a child’s father and who was prevented from subsequently denying paternity, even though a DNA test proved that he was not the father.

In New York, as in other jurisdictions, paternity by estoppel, the decisive issue in this case, has long been applied and is codified in §§ 418(a) and 532(a) of the Family Court Act. The Court of Appeals’ ruling was that where a man holds himself out as the child’s father, and the child justifiably relies on that representation, the man may later be estopped from denying paternity.

In the case of contested paternity, § 418(a) makes it clear that a court may not order a DNA test, if it is not in the best interests of the child based on res judicata, equitable estoppel (as in this case) or the presumption of legitimacy of a child born to a married man. In Shondel J. v. Mark D., the Family Court ordered DNA testing and then “held that Mark was estopped from denying paternity based on the best interests of the child.”

In the majority Appeals court ruling, the court held: “The Legislature did not create an exception for men who take on the role of fatherhood based on the mother’s misrepresentation.”

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