Paternity by Estoppel: Alive and Well in Pennsylvania

Your actions can establish legal paternity through the doctrine of “paternity by estoppel”.

The doctrine of “paternity by estoppel” is a ” a legal determination that one may be deemed a parent based on his holding himself out as such.” Jones v. Trojak, 535 Pa. 95 (1993). It prevents a person that has acted like a parent from denying parentage at a later date. This issue most frequently comes up in child support cases and paternity disputes.

S.M.C. v. C.A.W.

In the recent case of S.M.C. v. C.A.W., 2019 PA Super 318 (2019), the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the doctrine based on the following facts:

“[T]he evidence in the present case supports the trial court’s ruling of paternity by estoppel. Appellant had a long-term in loco parentis relationship with Child that began when Child was an infant. Child and Appellee lived in Appellant’s home for virtually the first twelve years of Child’s life, during which time he held himself out as Child’s father, provided most of Child’s financial support, listed Child as a dependent on seven years of tax returns, and formed a close emotional bond with Child. After Appellee and Child left Appellant’s residence, Child had a continued need for financial support, as Appellant stopped all financial support and Appellee had to obtain public assistance. Child also continued to need Appellant’s emotional support, but Appellant stopped all contact with Child except for several isolated visits, causing Child to suffer an adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression. Based on the fact that Appellant held out Child to be his own for well over a decade, together with Child’s need for continued financial and psychological support, we conclude the court did not abuse its discretion in holding that it was in Child’s best interests for Appellant to be liable for child support based upon paternity by estoppel.”

The Takeaway

The key takeaway here is that if you hold yourself out to be a parent, and act in the parenting role, you can be deemed to be the parent of a child, regardless of actual blood ties.

If you or a loved one are dealing with a paternity dispute or child support dispute, contact the family law attorneys at Dodaro, Matta, & Cambest, P.C. today at 412-243-1600 to schedule a consultation.

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