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Court Discusses Complex Paternity Test

A New York Family Lawyer said in this paternity proceeding, the Court is faced with a fascinating issue of statutory construction of apparent first impression. At issue is whether results of a blood genetic marker test administered to a putative father prior to his death in a paternity proceeding relating to a prior child of the same parties sufficiently supports petitioner’s standing under Family Court Act § 519(c) to commence a new paternity proceeding involving another child of the same parties. Consistent with principles of statutory construction and in furtherance of the child’s welfare and public policy, this Court answers the question in the affirmative.

In 1991, assignor (“Mother”) gave birth out-of-wedlock to a baby boy in East Meadow, Nassau County, New York. Shortly after the birth, she and the child began receiving public financial assistance from the Nassau County Department of Social Services. Petitioner herein, Commissioner of Social Services, subsequently instituted a paternity proceeding on behalf of Mother against respondent to declare him the child’s father and to obtain indemnification for child support payments. Mother alleged in the petition that she had had sexual intercourse with respondent on several occasions from 1983 to 1991, during the time including the critical period of conception. Petitioner was looking for child support apparently based on the fact that respondent was the owner of a gas station in Massapequa, New York.

A New York Child Custody Lawyer said that on the appearance date, Hearing Examiner (“H.E.”) ordered the parties to submit to blood genetic marker tests to determine whether respondent could be excluded as being the child’s father. Following the administering and analysis of the blood genetic marker tests in the form of Human Leukocyte Antigen (“HLA”) tests or blood grouping tests, respondent could not be excluded as child’s father due to a 99.83% probability of paternity as compared to an untested random man of similar ethnic background. Based on those results and respondent’s voluntarily and intelligently made admission of paternity, an Order of Filiation was enteredby H.E., declaring respondent as child’s father and ordering him to temporarily pay a monthly child support. The temporary order of support was made final in June 1992. Respondent apparently complied with that support order for several years, while continuing having a relationship with Mother.

Thereafter, a New York City Family Lawyer said the mother again gave birth out-of wedlock to another baby boy, the subject child of this proceeding. Following the birth, respondent’s health deteriorated until he was finally diagnosed with cancer. Ten months after the onset of that illness, respondent died in West Islip, New York, at the age of 49 survived by his wife, movant and other children.

A Manhattan Family Lawyer said notwithstanding respondent’s death, and based upon Mother’s status as a recipient of public assistance, petitioner Commissioner commenced the instant proceeding by filing a paternity petition, as assignee and on behalf of Mother, against respondent decedent seeking a posthumous declaration of paternity and an award of child support pursuant to Family Court Act § 519. In support thereof, Mother affirmed that from 1983 until 1994 she had had exclusive sexual intercourse with respondent and, as a result, she became pregnant with the second child. On the appearance day, Nassau County Family Court appointed counsel to represent Mother, as an indigent pursuant to County Law, Art. 18-B, and a law guardian to protect child’s interests.

In opposition to the paternity petition, respondent, through her privately retained counsel, moves to dismiss the petition, presumably pursuant to CPLR 3211(10), relying on Family Court Act § 519, CPLR 1001 and 1015. In responding papers, Mother cross-moves for an order: (1) amending the petition’s caption to include the respondent; (2) directing blood genetic tests of Mother and the child; (3) directing that the blood genetic marker tests results previously performed on respondent be made available for this proceeding; and (4) directing a pre-trial standing hearing pursuant to Family Court Act § 519(d) based on several allegations by Mother that respondent openly and notoriously acknowledged his paternity of the child.

Following his receipt the motion, petitioner also cross-moves for an order: (1) denying respondent’s motion to dismiss; (2) amending the papers to include her as a respondent in this proceeding; (3) directing that the results of respondent’s prior tests be made available to this proceeding and the Deputy County Attorney; and (4) directing blood genetic marker tests of Mother and the child. Respondent’s motion and the other parties’ cross motions are consolidated for purposes of this decision and order.

If, at any time before or after a petition is filed, the putative father dies neither the proceeding nor the right to commence the proceeding shall necessarily abate but may be commenced or continued by any of the persons authorized by this article to commence a paternity proceeding where: (a) the putative father was the petitioner in the paternity proceeding; or, (b) the putative father acknowledged paternity of the child in open court; or, (c) a blood genetic marker test had been administered to the putative father prior to his death; or, (d) the putative father has openly and notoriously acknowledged the child as his own.

A paucity of precedent exists interpreting this statute. Paternity statutes, such as Family Court Act § 519, are to be given a liberal construction in order to protect the welfare of the child by not unduly suspending the question of parentage. And, when faced with statutory language which appears unambiguous, as here, a court must construe the language according to its natural and most obvious meaning while taking into consideration “the mischief sought to be remedied by the new legislation, and construing the act in question so as to suppress the evil and advance the remedy”. In fact, since Family Court possesses exclusive constitutional and statutory jurisdiction to determine paternity and establish the support of children born out-of-wedlock, its statutory interpretations in this area ought to be accorded weight and respect due to the Court’s expertise.

Respondent’s reliance on CPLR provisions to support a dismissal of the paternity petition is misplaced, however. CPLR provisions only apply to Family Court proceedings when the applicable method of procedure is not prescribed by the Family Court Act. Contrary to respondent’s arguments, Family Court Act § 519 specifically permits the commencement of a paternity proceeding against a deceased putative father. The instant proceeding commenced against respondent is therefore valid notwithstanding his prior death. Respondent next contends that the paternity petition must be dismissed because none of the four subdivisions of Family Court Act § 519, preventing abatement, exists or is supported by relevant evidence. She alternatively argues that even if the blood genetic marker test results were in fact administered in the past to respondent, there are questions as to their validity, foundation and authenticity given the passage of time. These contentions by Respondent are unpersuasive to the Court.
As the above quoted statutory language reflects, Family Court Act § 519(c) grants standing to a petitioner to commence a paternity proceeding when “a blood genetic marker test had been administered to the putative father prior to his death.” This statutory language appears unambiguous and should be construed according to its natural and obvious sense while suppressing the evil and promoting the remedy sought to be advanced. Bearing in mind these principles of statutory construction, it is clear that the blood genetic marker tests administered to respondent during the prior paternity proceeding sufficiently support petitioner’s standing to commence this proceeding pursuant to Family Court Act § 519(c).

Although the statutory language used by the Legislature in Section 519, subdivisions (a) and (b) appear to refer to the particular proceeding at issue, subdivisions (c) and (d) do not necessarily relate to it but concern previous acts taken by and/or on behalf of the putative father. By the same reasoning, when the statutory language in subdivision (c) speaks of “a blood genetic marker test” that had been administered to the putative father, the test does not necessarily relate or belong to the proceeding at hand. This Court believes that the relevant test for statutory purposes may be one performed prior to the proceeding at issue and/or involving another child. Such is the situation involved in the instant paternity proceeding.

As evinced by Court records, in 1992, respondent, Mother and their child submitted to blood genetic marker tests, in the form of HLA tests, in support of the prior paternity petition. Those blood grouping test results are presently in the custody of and readily available to this Court and counsel as part of the record in the previous proceeding. Since the relevant elements and characteristics of respondent’s blood grouping tests do not change over time, they might be utilized, with a proper foundation, as material and relevant evidence in this proceeding to determine whether respondent can be excluded as the biological father of the first child. These results are not conclusive but rather probative evidence that must be considered together with other evidence of paternity. By utilizing these test results there would be no need for an exhumation or any other disturbance of respondent’s mortal remains.

Faced with the existence of the prior blood genetic marker test results, respondent additionally argues that the validity and authenticity of the results are suspect because of the time period that has elapsed between their administration and the present. Although the test results were in fact performed almost three years ago, this Court is unpersuaded by respondent’s unsupported claim as to their lack of validity and staleness.

Contrary to respondent’s intimations as to the reliability and validity of blood genetic marker tests, which include blood grouping tests, HLA tests and deoxyribonucleic acid (“DNA”) tests, caselaw has consistently approved and supported the reliability and accuracy of those tests to determine the probability of nonpaternity. Additional support for the tests’ accuracy is found in the Legislature’s amendment to Family Court Act § 532 to provide that genetic marker test results indicating at least a 95% probability of paternity are not only admissible, but create a rebuttable presumption of paternity.

Particularly to this proceeding, the blood genetic marker tests of respondent were performed by a reputable corporation. The corporation, which routinely provides testing services for this Court, submitted the test results accompanied by a sworn, notarized affirmation by its director, attesting to their validity and correctness. Furthermore, the results were also accompanied by a certification pursuant to CPLR 4518(c) by the director, certifying and authenticating the records and reports relating to the administering and analysis of the blood tests pursuant to Family Court Act §§ 418 and 532. Director affirmed in the Certification that the report was made in the regular course of business of the laboratory and immediately or within a reasonable time after the tests were administered. In any event, respondent never objected to the validity or accuracy of the test results or to the subsequently entered order of filiation and support.

Accordingly, based on the foregoing discussion, respondent’s motion to dismiss the paternity petition is denied in its entirety. Mother’s cross motion to: (1) amend the caption, summons, petition and all related papers to include respondent as such, is granted; (2) direct blood genetic marker tests of Mother and the child is granted; (3) direct that the blood genetic marker test results previously performed on respondent be made available to this proceeding, is granted; and (4) direct a standing hearing under Family Court Act § 519(d), is denied. Finally, petitioner’s cross motion asking for similar items of relief than Mother, is granted in its entirety.
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