What is Paternity?
"Paternity establishment is a prerequisite for obtaining a child support order."
When a married couple has a child, the law automatically recognizes the husband as the father. When an unmarried woman has a child, an official act is needed to establish the legal father of the child. This is called establishing paternity. Sometimes a parent may want proof that the man is the biological father of the child. In that case, a genetic test will be used to show that either the man is not the biological father (he is excluded), or, that there is an extremely high probability that the man is the father of the child. The results of a genetic test are then used by the court as evidence of parentage. A court order will then be issued establishing paternity.
You may not be the biological father. A DNA test will prove this one way or the other. What happens when you ignore a complaint to establish paternity? Read the case below. Trust men, you will probably not be as lucky to get an erroneous paternity result reversed on appeal.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT DIVISION EIGHT
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES,
Plaintiff and Respondent,
Defendant and Appellant.
B155166 (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BY119238)
APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County.
James B. Copelan, Temporary Judge. (Pursuant to Cal. Const., art. VI, § 21.)
Linda S. Ferrer for Defendant and Appellant.
Steve Cooley, District Attorney;
Phillip Browning, Director,
L. Cruz, Deputy Director,
Nancy K. Ruffolo, Attorney in Charge, and
Fesia A. Davenport, Staff Attorney, Child Support Services Department, for Plaintiff and Respondent.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
In March 1996, the Bureau of Family Support Operations in the District Attorney’s Office1 (the County) filed a complaint to establish the paternity and child support obligations of “Manuel Nava” for two boys born in December 1995 who had been receiving public assistance. The County attempted substitute service of the complaint in May 1996 by leaving a copy at appellant’s address with “Jane Doe,” listed as “sister” and “co-tenant” and serving a copy by first class mail. The complaint alerted appellant of the danger of not answering the complaint if he denied paternity, and warned he could become liable for child support if the court determined he was the boys’ father. Appellant did not answer the complaint and the County took his default in July 1996. The court thereafter entered judgment establishing appellant’s paternity and ordered him to pay $247 in monthly child support.
Five years later in July 2001 appellant filed a motion to set aside the judgment and have his answer deemed filed because a recent genetic blood test indisputably proved he was not the boys’ father. He claimed that although he lived at the address cited on the complaint’s proof of service, and he never attempted to avoid service, he nonetheless never received a copy of the summons and complaint or default judgment. In support of his motion, he noted that blood tests in a separate paternity action in San Bernardino County had conclusively proven a few months earlier that he was not the boys’ father. Based on those tests, San Bernardino County authorities had dismissed their paternity suit against him prejudice. Acknowledging the six-month period for setting aside the judgment under Code of Civil Procedure section 473 had long passed, he argued relief was nevertheless proper because the boys’ mother had committed extrinsic fraud in asserting he was the father when in fact he was not, thus depriving him of a fair adversarial hearing.
Footnote: 1 Pursuant to Family Code section 17304, on July 1, 2001, the County of Los Angeles Child Support Services Department replaced the District Attorney’s Bureau of Family Support Operations as the County agency charged with establishing parentage, obtaining and enforcing orders for support.
By strict application of the law, appellant should be denied relief. (This means if you ignore a complaint to establish paternity, chances are you'll be stuck paying child support for life ... even if the child is later determined to not be your child.) He did not file his motion to set aside the County’s default judgment against him until five years after its entry, long past the maximum six months allowed for setting aside a default judgment. (Code Civ. Proc., § 473, subd. (b).) Furthermore, appellant cannot win relief under the doctrine of extrinsic fraud because mother’s false assertion that he was the boys’ father is not the sort of falsehood the doctrine encompasses. (This means a woman can LIE and make you pay child support if you ignore the complaint.) (See, e.g., Kachig v. Boothe (1971) 22 Cal.App.3d 626, 632-633.) In sum, a narrow, technical reading of the controlling case law and statutes, with their emphasis on the public interest in the finality of judgments, suggests the trial court ruled correctly.
The County, a political embodiment of its citizens and inhabitants, must always act in the public interest and for the general good. It should not enforce child support judgments it knows to be unfounded. And in particular, it should not ask the courts to assist it in doing so. Despite the Legislature’s clear directive that child support agencies not pursue mistaken child support actions, the County persists in asking that we do so. We will not sully our hands by participating in an unjust, and factually unfounded, result. We say no to the County, and we reverse.
Footnote: #2 We recognize that finality and certainty assume greater importance when the issue is paternity in a long-standing parent-child relationship, for then the child’s psychological well being is at stake. Here, however, the issue is solely the cold-hard cash of child support, as appellant has always denied paternity and has no relationship with the boys. In this dispute over money, the greater equities lie with appellant, who has no relationship with the boys, than with the County, whose obligation to the general welfare compelled it to support the boys when their real father did not.
The order denying appellant’s motion to set aside the default judgment is reversed. Each side to bear their own costs on appeal.
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5. Police Brutality
6. Bankruptcy Law
7. Re-Zoo-May (Resume/Employment)
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