Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Case Law Development: Failure to Inform Father of Possible Doubts as to Paternity Constitutes Fraud so as to Prevent Application of Paternity by Estoppel

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed a trial court's judgment of paternity in a case involving an unmarried man who had accepted his paramour's child as his own and paid support for about a year and a half, at which point, at the urging of his fiance' and friends, he obtained a DNA test and discovered that he was not the child's biological father.  The trial court held that he was estopped from denying paternity. 

On appeal, the court reversed, holding that, because Mother had never told the alleged father that she had been having sexual relations with another man during their seven-year-relationship, there was sufficient proof of fraud that the doctrine of paternity by estoppel should not apply. The court's observed that: "Clearly, Mother is holding all the cards here; only she knew that another man might be the biological father and only she could inform Gatti. The mother is the only one who knows who the possible fathers are, at least until a paternity test is done. Mother's failure to provide Gatti with the information that only she knew, and which she knew if she divulged would provide Gatti with a clear understanding of the matter, lulled him into believing he was the father. Mother concealed that which should have been disclosed, and Gatti acted accordingly. The trial court noted that Mother might have thought the child was most likely Gatti's rather than the other man she was having relations with. However, she was the one that knew she was having relations with someone else and never revealed it to Gatti. This constitutes fraud or at least misrepresentation..."

The dissent agreed with the trial court that these facts were insufficient grounds for fraud.

Gebler v. Gatti, 2006 PA Super 19; 2006 Pa. Super. LEXIS 47 (February 2, 2006)

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