A presumption of paternity arises where a child is born into an intact marriage. In that circumstance, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, the husband will be deemed to be the father. Paternity by estoppel acts to impose an obligation on the party who holds themselves out as a father to the child and supports the child to continue to support the child.
In K.E.M. v. P.C.S. 29 A.3d 843 (2012), Appellant, mother of G.L.M., brought an action for support against Appellee, the alleged father of G.L.M. Appellant was married to H.M.M. at the time G.L.M. was born. Further, H.M.M. had supported the child and acted as a father figure to G.L.M. for most of the child’s life. Appellee filed a motion to dismiss the support action on the basis of a presumption of paternity and paternity by estoppel.
Appellee’s argument that H.M.M. had acted as G.L.M.’s father prompted the lower court and Superior Court to grant his motion to dismiss the support action against him and continue to hold H.M.M. responsible for G.L.M.’s support. In this case, H.M.M. submitted to a paternity test which ruled him out as the father. Accordingly, the presumption of paternity was defeated.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ultimately reversed the decision and remanded back to the lower court for further proceedings. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the purpose of paternity by estoppel is to keep families intact and protect the best interest of the child by shielding them from claims of illegitimacy and, potentially, a broken family. Accordingly, the court would need to be convinced that it was in the best interests of G.L.M. to continue to recognize Appellant’s husband, H.M.M., as the father. No such evidence was presented at the hearing. In summary, paternity by estoppel is still a viable principle in Pennsylvania, however, it must be supported by an analysis of what’s in the child’s best interests to succeed.