United States: New Twists In The Creeping Doctrine Of Paternity By Estoppel

Attorneys sometimes read appellate cases and wonders "why?" This is one such case; a case with any easy result made complicated and difficult for reasons not easily understood.

The facts of R.K.J. v. S.P.K. 2013 Pa. Super. 259 (9/26/13) are easily condensed. Man and woman have a multi-year relationship which borders upon marriage but that event never actually occurs. Along the way, a child is conceived and born even though the birth mother is still married to someone else. Because the relationship is "good" at the time the baby is born, the defendant goes to the hospital, participates in the birth and signs the proffered acknowledgment of paternity before mother and baby are discharged. He does so, even though he knows the child is not his. To this writer, the case is closed. Perhaps the man made a mistake but the one principle of law universally accepted even though not found in Purdon's or the body of judicial precedent is: "Don't sign anything unless you expect to be bound."

The facts get worse for this putative father. He and the mother continue their relationship and for the next six years he really does appear to play the role of father even though it appears someone else was the actual father.

The reader can guess the next part. Mother and "father" see their relationship disintegrate and mother decides to sue "father" for child support. The trial court decides the case on the principle of paternity by estoppel. The Superior Court affirms. The "father" asks the Supreme Court to review and they remand the case for consideration under their new decision in K.E.M.v. P.C.S.38 A.2d 3d 798 (2012)

Now, back in the trial court, the case starts to take on a surreal aspect. The Court appoints a psychologist to assess whether the defendant should be the father. The man renews a series of demands for blood tests, none of which is ever ordered. The psychologist renders an opinion that the child needs a father for all the reasons any layperson could figure out. The one reason that seems especially twisted is that since it is not clear who the real father may be, this man has an income and thus has the ability to support the child. So, voila the man is again declared to be "father" by estoppel even though the facts on which estoppel is traditionally based (e.g., written acknowledgment of paternity and in loco parentis conduct) seem to take a back seat to the psychological findings.

In olden days, paternity was decided based upon allegations of sexual access coupled with physical evidence that the child looked like the Father. In the late 1980s DNA evidence made it possible to determine with near arithmetic certainty whether a man was the Father. Throughout this period there was also the presumption that a child conceived during marriage was the child of the husband no matter what the facts. DNA testing has made a mockery of this latter doctrine but it still survives.

This case together with K.E.M. take us into dangerous new territory. All of it is built on the pure fiction that once a person is declared a "father" for whatever reason, he will want to act in a positive way. History has taught us that even fathers bound to their children by common DNA do not always do the right thing. Does anyone seriously believe that a father "trapped" into supporting a child not otherwise his for eighteen years is going to view the experience of being sued for support as an instructive enterprise? As attorneys advising clients, is it not now our responsibility to advise men who live with women who have children of uncertain parentage that any kindness, whether pecuniary or emotional, delivered to the child could create exposure for years of support premised upon the child's psychological perception of parentage and the "child's best interests?"

These are discomforting thoughts. When we have the scientific means to ascertain a real answer, it smacks of a return to common law legal fictions to say that we will ignore the science in favor of a perceived "best interest" as interpreted by a court appointed psychologist. Most common law legal fictions arose from the fact that we needed a scientific answer but could not secure one.

In this case, S.P. K. made a serious legal mistake when he acknowledged paternity without a blood test confirming his status. He compounded the mistake by embracing the child for only so long as his relationship with the mother endured. He could have been found liable for support based on the acknowledgment he signed or in loco parentis based upon his conduct in the succeeding years. But the concept that courts must now employ psychologists to help decide paternity based on a best interests analysis is fraught with the worst kind of peril; peril without purpose.

Post script: What makes this case all the more bizarre is the treatment of the man who was married to the plaintiff at the time she became pregnant. The defendant sought to join him as a party to the case. That request was denied. All the opinion offers us is that the child has never seen his alleged biological father. Query how this case can be decided without knowing positively the identity of the true father or considering the fact that under cases like Stanley v. Illinois 405 U.S. 645 (1972) the right to raise one's biological child is fundamental. If the plaintiff's husband (a) is the biological father and (b) was never told he had fathered this child, is there any constitutional basis to deny his petition for custody? Would S.P.K. also owe him child support if he demonstrated himself to be a more fit parent than the natural mother and secured primary custody?

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.