The Legal Intelligencer: Child Support Action Dismissed Over Lack of Acknowledgement of Paternity
In an article published in The Legal Intelligencer on April 12, 2021, family law partner Michael Bertin discusses the recent Pennsylvania Superior Court case of Denelle v. Denelle, 243 A.3d 230 (Pa. Super. 2020), which addressed an issue regarding the connection between the signing of an acknowledgement of paternity and child support. The facts of this case brought up questions surrounding the paternity by estoppel doctrine; specifically, whether that doctrine could bind a presumed parent to a support obligation for a child.
The mother, Jamie Denelle, filed a child support action against Samantha Denelle (formerly named Marc Allen Denelle) (the presumed parent). According to the opinion, Jamie and Samantha began dating when Jamie was three months pregnant with the child. While Jamie was pregnant, she informed Samantha that the child’s biological father was someone else. The parties also agreed that Samantha would not be financially responsible for supporting the child and that Jamie would pursue the biological father for child support.
The Superior Court found that the record supported the trial court’s finding that Samantha did not actually sign the acknowledgement of paternity and, thus, concluded that there was no legal basis to impose a child support obligation on her as the presumed parent. The trial court further stated that because “there was no evidence demonstrating that the acknowledgement was executed and signed by the putative parent, it was not necessary for the putative parent to demonstrate fraud, duress or mistake of fact to rescind the acknowledgement.”
The facts contained in the opinion did not provide details as to Samantha’s relationship and actions during the child’s lifetime. The opinion further reflected that the parties had an understanding since the child’s birth that [the biological father] would be financially responsible for the child and not Samantha as the presumed parent. In addition, it did not appear that Samantha sought any parenting rights of the child at the time of the parties’ separation.
Michael is a family law attorney who focuses his practice on child custody, child support, and divorce, including the negotiation and litigation of domestic relations cases, divorce, custody, support, alimony, property distribution, prenuptial agreements, and related issues. He is immediate past-Chair of the Family Law Section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, a member of its Executive Committee and Council (the governing bodies of the Section), and is a former chair and member of its Procedural Rules Committee, Legislative Committee, and Program Committee. Michael is a former Chair of the Family Law Section of the Philadelphia Bar Association and the current co-chair of its Custody Committee. He is a former member of the Board of Managers (the governing body) of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the AAML. Michael also serves as chair of Obermayer’s Pro Bono Committee.