Challenges to parentage determinations are becoming more common today than ever before. One factor seems to be a focus on “duped dads,” many of whom want to get out of paying child support for a child now found to be unrelated to them, but named as their child or children in a judgment of divorce. Another factor is the ready availability of DNA evidence. Home DNA testing is common and can provide a basis for a motion to set aside a child support order. Of course, home DNA testing doesn’t provide the controls of court-ordered DNA testing by a reputable lab with its control on the production of DNA samples. A question left undecided in a recent Michigan court of appeals case is whether the court had the actual authority to order a DNA test.
The Michigan Court of Appeals, in an unpublished decision on June 5, 2007 held that a duped dad who had paid child support since 1999 was not entitled to set aside the judgment of divorce in order to obtain reimbursement for over $50,000 in child support paid between 1999 and the date he filed his motion to terminate child support on January 20, 2005. Because the mother’s fraud was intrinsic fraud, a court rule and also well-established case law precluded the trial court to grant this ex-husband relief from the 1999 judgment. He had only one year to challenge to the judgment that ordered child support. Public policy, the court rule, and case law limit the time for motions to set aside judgments in order to preserve finality of judgments. The ex-husband did not challenge the child support order/judgment until 2005—after the mother asked for parenting time provisions to be enforced and for an increase in child support.
Because the ex-husband could not be given relief from judgment, the trial court was limited by Michigan law from retroactive modification of the child support order. The modification could only be retroactive to the date that he filed his motion regarding child support. As a result, the court of appeals reversed the trial court’s order that the mother had to repay to the father almost $55,000 in child support that he had paid under the judgment.
The mother argued unsuccessfully on appeal that the equitable parent doctrine should have been applied. Citing Van v Zahorik, 460 Mich 320 (1999) and Killingbeck v Killingbeck, 269 Mich App 132 (2005), the court of appeals stated that this doctrine has never been applied outside of the context of marriage. The child in this case was born several years prior to the parties’ marriage.
All in all, the mother was relieved of a huge obligation to reimburse the ex-husband for her fraud, the child was deprived of the only father he’d ever known, and the child biological father was deprived of his biological father.
The case, Covert v Covert, may be read here.
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