Family Law/Feb 24, 2014

Who’s Your Daddy? The Answer Might Surprise You

According to the Michigan Court of Appeals, DNA may have nothing to do with answering the question: Who’s your daddy? In a split opinion, the Court’s majority upheld a lower court decision denying the legal designation of paternity to a child’s biological father in Helton v Beaman, _____ Mich App ____, (2014).

Lisa Beaman conceived a child during a brief sexual relationship with Matthew Helton. At the time, Lisa was separated from her then boyfriend (and now husband) Douglas Beaman. The couple reunited but did not marry. At the time the child was born, Douglas signed an affidavit of parentage acknowledging paternity. Both Lisa and Douglas Beaman are listed as parents on the child’s birth certificate.

Lisa and Douglas began raising the child with three other children, but allowed Helton to see the child occasionally. When the child was two months old, Helton had DNA testing to determine paternity of the child, but failed to pay the lab for the results until three years later. The results of the DNA test confirmed Helton’s paternity. After receiving the results, Helton initially had scattered visits with the child, however, those ceased within a short time. Lisa and Douglas remained unmarried throughout this time.

When the child was seven years old, Helton brought suit against the couple, seeking an order of filiation and parenting time. While this suit was pending, Lisa and Douglas married. The suit was eventually dismissed by the circuit court.

Two years later, Helton again brought suit against the couple under the newly-enacted Revocation of Paternity Act (RPA). Despite the conclusive results of the DNA testing, the trial court found that the test results alone were insufficient evidence to set aside Douglas’ acknowledgment of parentage.

When a child is born to a married couple, Michigan law presumes that husband and wife are the biological and legal parents of the child. However, when a child is born to an unmarried woman, a man who believes he is the father and wishes to raise the child may acknowledge his parentage. An “acknowledged father” under Michigan law has the responsibility to support the child, and the child has the identical rights of any child born in wedlock.

The RPA, enacted in 2012, allows a potential biological father to challenge – and ultimately revoke – an acknowledgment of parentage, under certain circumstances. Because this legislation is new, its interpretation by the courts is yet to be conclusively decided – as is evidenced by this Court of Appeals opinion. The two concurring judges based their opinions on differing interpretations of the RPA. And all three judges found reason to author separate opinions.

In the end, the Court’s majority reasoned that it was in the best interest of the child to deny the revocation of the acknowledgment of parentage. Both concurring judges used the same factors that are used to determine custody cases. The majority looked to the language of the RPA, which states that the results of DNA testing “are not binding on the court.” The dissent, however, reasoned that an analysis of the best interests of the child need not be used because the RPA does not change a child’s custody – it only establishes paternity. According to the dissent, undisputed DNA evidence should be enough to determine parentage of a child.

Given the varying opinions from the Court of Appeals, it is likely that the RPA will ultimately be interpreted by the Michigan Supreme Court. But for now at least, the answer to “Who’s your daddy?” may have nothing to do with DNA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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