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Challenging an acknowledgment of paternity beyond the statutory deadline. Daniel FF. v. Alicia GG., 207 A.D.3d 853 (N.Y. App. Div. 2022)


In Daniel FF. v. Alicia GG., 207 A.D.3d 853 (N.Y. App. Div. 2022), a case before the Family Court of Ulster County, a petitioner sought to challenge an acknowledgment of paternity issued shortly after the birth of a child. The court’s decision centered on the doctrine of equitable estoppel.

In New York, an acknowledgment of paternity is a legal document signed by both the mother and the father of a child, voluntarily acknowledging that the man is the biological father of the child. This acknowledgment establishes legal paternity, confirming the father’s rights and responsibilities regarding the child. It is typically signed at the time of the child’s birth or soon after and is often completed at the hospital where the child is born.

Once the acknowledgment of paternity is signed and properly executed, it has the same legal effect as a court order establishing paternity. This means that the father becomes legally recognized as the child’s parent, with all associated rights and obligations, including the right to seek custody or visitation and the responsibility to provide financial support for the child.

Background Facts
The petitioner and the child’s mother were previously in a relationship when the child was born in 2017. Following the child’s birth, the petitioner promptly signed an acknowledgment of paternity, indicating his legal recognition as the child’s father. However, their relationship deteriorated, leading to a separation in April 2019, when the child was approximately 18 months old. Subsequently, disputes over child custody and support ensued between the petitioner and the child’s mother.

In March 2021, the petitioner initiated legal action seeking to vacate the acknowledgment of paternity previously signed. This action prompted a legal proceeding pursuant to Family Court Act article 5.

During the proceedings, the attorney for the child raised the issue of equitable estoppel. As a result, the matter was referred to a hearing before a Support Magistrate, which ultimately led to a fact-finding hearing before the Family Court, focusing solely on the application of equitable estoppel.

Whether the petitioner could challenge the acknowledgment of paternity beyond the statutory deadline and if equitable estoppel applied in this case.

The court affirmed the dismissal of the petitioner’s application, albeit on different grounds. It found that the petitioner failed to satisfy the initial burden of proof in challenging the acknowledgment of paternity. Moreover, the court concluded that the consideration of equitable estoppel was premature due to the petitioner’s failure to meet the statutory deadline for challenging paternity.

Firstly, the court addressed the procedural aspect of the case, emphasizing the statutory framework outlined in the Family Court Act. It noted that under Family Ct Act § 516–a (b), a party seeking to challenge an acknowledgment of paternity beyond 60 days after its execution must demonstrate that it was signed under fraud, duress, or due to a material mistake of fact. Failure to meet this initial burden precludes further inquiry into equitable estoppel. In this case, the petitioner initiated the paternity proceeding well beyond the statutory deadline, thus failing to satisfy the procedural prerequisite for challenging paternity.

Secondly, the court examined the petitioner’s failure to meet the substantive burden of proof required to challenge the acknowledgment of paternity. It emphasized that the petitioner’s vague and speculative claim of infidelity on the part of the child’s mother did not constitute sufficient grounds for vacating the acknowledgment. The petitioner failed to plead specific facts demonstrating fraud, duress, or a material mistake of fact, as required by statute and legal precedent.

Furthermore, the court underscored the petitioner’s failure to reference the specific statutory ground upon which he sought vacatur in his petition. This lack of specificity rendered the petitioner’s claim unsubstantiated and insufficient to warrant rescission of the acknowledgment of paternity.

The court’s decision underscores the importance of adhering to statutory deadlines and meeting the burden of proof in challenging paternity acknowledgments. Navigating family law matters can be complex, especially when issues of paternity arise. If you need legal assistance or guidance in family law matters, contact an experienced New York paternity lawyer  at Stephen Bilkis & Associates to ensure your rights are protected and your interests are advocated for effectively.

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