A man who signed affidavits of parentage naming himself the “natural father” of twin boys cannot later claim insist on a paternity test if he knew when he signed the documents that he might not be the biological father, a Maryland appeals court has ruled.
The Court of Special Appeals held in a reported opinion issued Thursday that unless the affidavits of parentage were signed based on “fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact,” they cannot be challenged in court after 60 days have passed since they were executed.
Because the man, Justin Davis, signed the documents despite knowing there was a chance he was not the biological father of Jessica Cook’s twin boys, he is not entitled to a genetic test to determine paternity and is obligated to pay child support, the court ruled.
In December 2009, Cook gave birth to Nicholas Marley Davis and Benjamin Davis, and she and Justin Davis signed affidavits of parentage naming him as the children’s father.
The Wicomico County Bureau of Support Enforcement filed a complaint for child support against Davis in July 2011, and in response, he sent the bureau a letter denying that he was the children’s father and denying any obligation to support them financially. Davis also stated in the letter that no one had explained to him the legal significance of signing an affidavit of parentage, and requested the court administer a paternity test.
The Wicomico County Circuit Court held a hearing in September 2011. At the hearing, Cook testified that when she told Davis she was pregnant, she acknowledged there was “a possibility that those children were not his.” Either way, Cook testified she believed they would raise the children together.
“[Davis] testified that, when he signed the affidavits of parentage, he believed that he was the biological father of the children,” Judge Patrick L. Woodward wrote for the Court of Special Appeals. “[Davis] testified, however, that he began to doubt that he was the biological father of the children ‘afterwards when the children came out visibly, visibly Caucasian.’” Court documents did not specify Davis’s race.
Davis also told the court that he did not understand that signing the affidavits would legally obligate him even if he was not the father.
However, the Court of Special Appeals’ opinion cites language from the affidavits signed by Cook and Davis that reads: “If either of you is not sure that the man signing the Affidavit is the biological father of the child, you should not complete the Affidavit at this time. You should first have a genetic test. … This Affidavit creates legal rights and obligations related to your child, and may impact custody, child support and visitation. Therefore, it may be beneficial to talk to a lawyer before signing the Affidavit.”
The circuit court ruled against Davis, ordering him to pay child support.
About two years later, in September 2013, Davis filed a complaint again asking the court to order a blood test and set aside the child support order.
The court determined that Davis had waived his right to a blood test by failing to appeal the 2011 decision. Davis then appealed to the Court of Special Appeals.
Assistant attorney general Joseph B. Spillman Jr., who served as counsel for the Wicomico County Bureau of Support Enforcement, did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. Michael A. Davis, an out-of-state attorney who represented Davis in front of the Court of Special Appeals, could not be reached for comment.
The case is Justin Davis v. Wicomico County Bureau of Support Enforcement, CSA No. 2358, Sept. Term 2013.