Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Case Law Update: Voluntary Acknowledgement Wins in Competing Presumptions of Paternity

In an extremely messy case involving dramatically differing stories from the parties and the intersection of four separate statutory provisions governing paternity, the California Court of Appeals held that a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity trumped the presumption created by holding oneself out as a father.

While she was pregnant and for a time after the child was born, Mother lived with the petitioner, a man (who happened to be a family law attorney) .  Though he knew he was not the biological father, the petitioner held out the child as his own.  This established petitioner as a presumptive father under the Uniform Parentage Act.  The biological father, as determined by a private pre-birth DNA test, had filed a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, but, because he had another family, had not publicly acknowledged the child as his own.  The voluntary acknowlegment established the biological father's paternity under the voluntary declaration of paternity act, which states that a volunatry acknowlegment is the equivalent of a judgment of paternity. 

Thus the court was left with the question, "Does a man's voluntary declaration of paternity—if properly signed and filed after 1996 and never rescinded or set aside—rebut a rebuttable presumption of paternity under [the UPA]?"  The lower court had held both presumptions equal and had found that petitioner's actions outweighed the presumption favoring biological father.  The court of appeals reversed, holding that California's statute clearly establishes that a properly executed and filed voluntary acknowlegment of paternity has the effect of a judment of paternity and that the statute limits judicial discretion to set aside this judgment.  Given that that UPA states that a judgment of paternity outweighs the presumption of paternity created by holding out oneself as a father, the trial court erred in weighing the two presumptions equally.  Rather, the biological father's paternity should have been treated as conclusively presumed.

The case presents a fairly rich description on the competing versions of Mother and petitioner and would make a fine starting point for crafting a problem on competing presumptions.

Kevin Q. v. Lauren W., (Calif. App. 4th Dist. June 19, 2009)
Opinion online (last visited June 22, 2009 bgf)

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