An unusual case in Pennsylvania recently raised the issue of Acknowledgment of Paternity forms in child support cases. In this case, despite not being a biological parent, the Court considered making the mother's former partner pay child support because of an Acknowledgment of Paternity. Only the absence of the father's signature prevented this.
The mother, Jamie Denelle, was married to Samantha Denelle (then named Marc Allen Denelle) for several years. Samantha underwent gender reassignment surgery, and the couple later divorced.
Jamie Denelle had begun dating Samantha Denelle when three months pregnant with another man's child. She informed her new partner Samantha (formally Marc) who the biological father was and agreed that he, not Marc, would be financially responsible for the child.
However, Marc Denelle's name appeared on an Acknowledgment of Paternity for the child as well as on the child's birth certificate.
In 2018, when surgery left the mother unable to work, she sought financial support for the child in order to be eligible for public financial assistance.
The Court responded by ordering Samantha Denelle to pay $1,125 monthly child support. The mother filed for a hearing and confirmed that her former partner was not a biological parent, but simply signed the hospital papers, and requested that their name be removed from the acknowledgment of paternity and birth certificate.
The Position of the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Office
In spite of this, the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Office (DRO) maintained that Samantha Denelle was legally obligated to support the child despite not being the biological father because they were named on the paperwork. When the Court dismissed the complaint for child support, the DRO appealed the decision.
The Superior Court's Findings
When it went to appeal, the Superior Court found that as Samantha (formerly Marc) did not actually sign the acknowledgment of paternity, they were not bound by its statutory requirements. As such, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court's order to dismiss the claim for support.
This case was highly fact-specific, as it hung on the absence of a father's signature on the hospital forms. However, it goes to show how seriously the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Office takes the responsibilities that come when you agree to be named on documents establishing your paternity.
Establishing Paternity in Pennsylvania
The Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) form allows unmarried mothers to establish paternity for their child without going through a court and giving the father legal rights and duties. As this case illustrates, the Bureau of Child Support Enforcement will not accept the AOP form without the father's signature. If paternity is unclear, the parents can go to the Domestic Relations Section and request paternity establishment through genetic testing.
Paternity and Child Support in Pennsylvania
The Court can order a parent to pay child support to help with the costs of raising a child whether or not they were married to the other parent. These payments typically continue until the child turns 18. The Pennsylvania Family Courts will make a legally binding child support order, and that will be managed on the statewide electronic Pennsylvania Automated Child Support Enforcement System (PACSES) system. An attorney who is experienced with family law in Pennsylvania will best advise parents going through this process.
Child Support Attorney
Whether you are seeking to negotiate or modify child support, the proceedings can be confusing and unforgiving without help from an experienced Family Law attorney. If you or a loved one is engaged in Family Law proceedings in Pennsylvania, contact attorney Joseph D. Lentotoday at 888-535-3686.