The Michigan appeals court says a man who mistakenly believed he was the father of his girlfriend's son cannot be pursued for child support. The ruling in April 2010 overturns a decision by an Iosco County Family Court Judge who had agreed with the prosecutor's office and ordered child support in 2009. The facts of this case were distinguished from a published Ohio case. The importance of this case from my point of view is that the conclusions of law can be applied to similar cases in which a father was held liable for child support as the "presumptive father" simply because he was married to the mother when the child was born or conceived.
April 16, 2003: Plaintiff Mother gave birth to a son. She and Defendant Father were living together. Father believed that this was his biological son and therefore the parties executed an acknowledgment of parentage.
September 2004: The relationship went south, and Defendant Father obtained a DNA test. The test confirmed he was not the child’s biological father. The parties remained together for approximately one more year.
2005: Sometime between July and August, Defendant Father moved out. 2006:
By Spring 2006, Defendant Father had cut off all contact with the mother and child.
Late January 2009: Plaintiff Mother, represented by the prosecuting attorney, file a support action against the father. The father relied upon the DNA test results. He filed a motion pursuant to MCL 722.1011 to revoke the acknowledgment of parentage. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motion. The Court of Appeals reversed.
The rationale for the T/C’s decision was that it wasn’t “equitable” to allow a revocation because of the four-and-a-half- year delay between the time when Defendant Father learned that he was not the biological father and the time he attempted the revocation. The trial court concluded that defendant’s actions had prevented plaintiff from looking for the child’s biological father.
The COA said that this reasoning made little sense under these facts because the mother as well had known for four and a half years that Defendant Father was not the child’s biological father. Thus, she was not prevented from seeking out the biological father during that time, nor was she prevented from seeking support from defendant. The COA dintinguished this case from an Ohio case also involving public assistance.
According to the COA, in the Ohio case, the trial court reasonably concluded that the children, the mother and the public had relied upon the plaintiff’s assumption of parental responsibility for a lengthy period of time and that it was inequitable to leave the children fatherless and on public benefits for survival. But here, the facts did not support the conclusion of reliance on the part of the mother. The COA said:
"It is truly unfortunate that neither parent acted earlier. Nonetheless, we conclude that defendant’s delay in attempting to revoke his acknowledgment of parentage was not unreasonable under the circumstances. Defendant had no relationship with Colton for about three years prior to the initiation of this litigation, and plaintiff acquiesced to that state of affairs for the same time period. There is no reason to believe that plaintiff relied on the acknowledgment of parentage during that time. Under these circumstances, revocation was the proper result.”
This case, Brancher v Peters, may be read here.