In People v Nugent, Docket No. 267069 For Publication, decided July 3, 2007, the Bay County prosecutor's office sought an order revoking an acknowledgment of parentage.
In this case, Nugent signed an acknowledgment of parentage claiming to be the biological father of a child born to Amy Dyjak despite the fact that he'd had a vasectomy a few years earlier. As they say, "truth will out." Eventually, it was established that Nugent's 14-year-old son was the biological father of the infant. Dyjak pled guilty to 2nd degree CSC. Her voluntary plea agreement required her to relinquish her parental rights to the child.
When Nugent refused to cooperate and revoke the acknowledgment of parentage, the PA--apparently on behalf of Alex--filed a petition to revoke the petition. Nugent contested the action because he wanted to remain the legal father of the child. Nugent's theory was that because he intended to be the child's father when he signed the acknowledgment and because he intended to remain the father after he learned that he was not biologically related, there was no mistake of fact that could be the grounds for revocation. The trial court denied the PA's petition and this appeal followed. There are two quite interesting things to learn from this case.
First, it's been established that where there has been an acknowledgment of parentage filed, a biological father has no standing to file a paternity action. Sinicropi v Mazurek, 273 Mich App 149 (2006). Here, the PA filed a paternity action on behalf of Alex that was dismissed.
But the Paternity Act gives standing to three people to file a claim for revocation. The biological father is not one of those persons. Rather, only the mother or the man who signed the acknowledgment and the prosecuting attorney have standing to file for a revocation. See MCL 722.1011(1). As the COA noted: " It appears undisputed that plaintiff initiated this action on behalf of Alex. Presumably, plaintiff had motive to initiate this action because, unless and until the acknowledgment of parentage was properly revoked, neither plaintiff nor Alex could proceed with a paternity action under the Paternity Act."
Some relief is on the horizon, perhaps, for putative fathers whose former girlfriends have gotten some other guy to sign the acknowledgment of parentage!
Next, in what may provide some relief not only for biological fathers in a situation like Alex's where another man has laid claim to the status of legal father, but also for men who want to get out from under the responsibilities that they assumed upon signing an acknowledgment, the COA defined the term "mistake of fact" -- in context, what a constitutes a mistake of fact that is grounds for revocation. This definition may have some far-reaching consequences.
In a recent Michigan Supreme Court case, Ford Motor Company v Woodhaven, 475 Mich 425, 439-440 (2006), the court, quoting Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed), held that “mistake of fact” was “[a] mistake about a fact that is material to a transaction.”
In this case, the COA cited Woodhaven and stated that "[b]ecause we opine that “mistake of fact” is a technical term that has acquired a peculiar meaning under the law, the recent Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed) definition of “mistake of fact”—“[a] mistake about a fact that is material to a transaction; any mistake other than a mistake of law”—is most helpful.
The COA held that the PA's presentation of unchallenged DNA evidence establishing that Alex, not Nugent, was the biological father was sufficient to establish a mistake of fact, regardless of what Nugent's intentions were and are. However, the statute requires that the trial court decide, in light of a mistake in fact, whether the equities of the case permitted or cried out for a revocation. Because this was not developed in the trial court record, the COA remanded to the trial court for a determination. Citing Sinicropi, the COA stated that "Revocation of defendant’s acknowledgment of paternity is not permitted if, on remand, plaintiff 'fails to establish clear and convincing evidence that the equities of the case demand revocation regardless of the fact that another man has clearly and convincingly been shown to be the biological father.' ”
People v Nugent may be read here.
UPDATE: See Post about June 12, 2012 enactment of the Revocation of Parentage Act. The Nugent case would be decided under this new law, but the mistake of fact issue here may be helpful.
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