FLORIDA PATERNITY FRAUD LAW MAY FREE NON-PARENT FROM HAVING TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT.

NOTE: Kentucky courts have held that the doctrine of equitable estoppel can be used to defeat a claim by a non-parent in order to force him to pay child support for a child proven by DNA testing not to be his biological child. See: S.R.D. vs. T.L.B., 2004-CA-001309 , Oct. 14, 2005 ,  Hurt v. Hurt, No. 2006-CA-000045-MR (Ky. App. 12/15/2006) (Ky. App., 2006) and 
  Sallaz v. Sallaz, No. 2005-CA-002311-ME (Ky. App. 1/19/2007) (Ky. App., 2007 BY MARC CAPUTO MiamiHerald.com TALLAHASSEERichard Edward Parker seemed to have the perfect evidence to avoid child-support payments: a DNA test showing the child isn’t his. 

But he lacked something more crucial: timing. Florida’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that the Fort Lauderdale boat worker missed a one-year deadline to file a claim against his estranged wife, Margaret J. Parker, for fraudulently representing his paternity when a court ordered him to pay support for the 3-year-old boy in 2001. 

Parker didn’t even know he was the father until 2003 — long after the deadline expired — through a paternity test he ordered when his ex-wife sued him for failure to pay about $1,200 monthly in child support. In delving into the often-vicious world of divorce and paternity cases, the high court failed to discuss Florida’s ”paternity fraud” law that the Legislature passed last year, when male lawmakers inveighed against deceptive women, and female legislators fretted about callous men abandoning children. 

The new law gives men the right to avoid child-support payments if they gain ”newly discovered evidence” that the child isn’t theirs. The law requires the man to file a court petition 90 days after getting the paternity test. Whether it will apply to Parker’s long-standing case or other old paternity cases in the courts is unclear, said his Miami lawyer, Scott A. Lazar, who is considering filing a challenge under the new law. Lazar said he’s sure the law will help blunt what would be a bad result from Thursday’s court ruling. 

”If there was not this new law, the effect of this decision would make paternity an issue in every divorce case,” Lazar said. “The advice you would have to give your client is to get a paternity test now, otherwise, he couldn’t do anything after a year if the child isn’t his.” Margaret Parker, who represented herself in court, couldn’t be reached for comment. 

In issuing its opinion, the high court sorted out conflicting rulings from two appeals courts, one of which held that Margaret Parker’s alleged misrepresentation was ”intrinsic fraud” — such as false testimony — that carries with it a one-year time limit for a court challenge. Another court in a previous case said such concealment was more serious ”extrinsic fraud,” because it was a ”fraud upon the court” and therefore had no such deadline. The opinion authored by Justice Kenneth Bell also excerpted a scholarly work pointing out ”adults are aware of the high incidence of infidelity” and that “the law should discourage adults from treating children they have parented as expendable when their adult relationships fall apart.” 

But more of that is on the horizon, child advocates warn, now that Florida’s new paternity fraud law is in effect.  ”There needs to be some more focus on the kids,” said Florida Legal Services Executive Director Kent Spuhler. “Our position is parenthood is not a one-way street. Kids give a lot back. Fatherhood is more than a matter of money.” 

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