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Recent Maryland Court of Appeals Ruling on Paternity

On September 21, 2009, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion holding that the Circuit Court for Garrett County had erred in ordering a paternity test for a child without first considering the child’s best interest. The case, Kamp v. Department of Human Resources, began when Darren Kamp, the father of four children with ex-wife, Vicki Duckworth, requested a paternity test for his fourth child after his ex-wife filed a motion to increase child support. The parties had been married for 16 years, had three children whose paternity was not questioned, but then had a fourth child after Darren had had a vasectomy. During the divorce proceedings in 1999, Darren agreed that he had four children.

The trial court, after ordering paternity testing that found that Darren was not the father of the fourth child, denied Vicki’s motion to increase child support and further terminated Darren’s child support obligation. The Department of Human Services appealed the trial court’s ruling, arguing that Darren could not contest paternity. Maryland’s highest court’s judges all agreed that trial court erred in ordering the test and terminating support, but disagree on their reasoning why. Three of the judges would base their decision on Darren’s 13 year delay in challenging paternity of the child, while the other four judge’s base their decision on the trial court’s lack of consideration of the best interest of the child before ordering the test.

The law in Maryland states that “there is a rebuttable presumption that the child is the legitimate child of the man to whom its mother was married at the time of conception.” Maryland Code, Family Law 5-1027. The issue of paternity often arises during a divorce when there are adultery allegations. Based upon this new ruling, if the putative father is unsure he is the biological father, it is his burden at the divorce stage to pursue and resolve the issue. The failure to do so could mean he is financially obligated to support the child until child support would otherwise terminate.

If you have questions regarding paternity or the Appeal process, an experienced Maryland divorce attorney will be able to assist you.