Legal Review: Genetic Testing Wins over Paternity by Estoppel

On January 6, 2023, a three-judge bench of Pennsylvania’s Superior Court made a ground-breaking decision regarding paternity testing for children whose fathers doubted their paternity. 

While the Superior Court’s decision on V.L.-P. v. S.R.D. may not be final, this case becomes a classic example of when the child’s best interests were weighed against science. 

Paternity Testing Has Come A Long Way

Paternity testing has come a long way. Not more than four decades ago, paternity testing involved bringing a child whose paternity was in question into the courtroom, where the judge or the jury would decide if the baby had any semblance with the accused father. 

Given the advanced methods of determining paternity today, it is difficult to imagine how anyone would have thought such an approach was a good idea. 

“The closest to genetic testing was blood tests approved in 1961 but its accuracy was nowhere close to genetic tests,” says Matt Towson of  Towson Law Firm.

Paternity by Estoppel

Even with the tests, a man who acted like a father to a child was estopped (disallowed) from denying paternity later. 

When deciding a 1963 Com. ex rel Weston v. Weston case, a three-judge bench of the Pennsylvania Superior Court observed that it was not right for a person to accept the role of a parent to a child only to question it later. At the same time, the court observed that the blood test, the only available test at the time, was not definitive.

The Story behind V.L.-P. v. S.R.D 

V.L.-P. v. S.R.D. 2023 Pa. Super. 2 (2023) revolves around the paternity of A.D., a 14-year-old girl born in 2008. According to the child’s mother, the child was a product of sexual intercourse she had with S.R.D. on the 2008 Super Bowl Sunday. 

When the mother informed the father about the pregnancy, the father, S.R.D, accepted it as the truth and took full responsibility by being in A.D.’s life, including paying child support. 

S.R.D. went as far as sharing physical custody of A.D. during the pandemic, but around this time, he stopped paying child support and demanded genetic testing. As a result, the mother, through her lawyer, asserted estoppel on the premise of S.R.D.’s relationship with A.D. for over 12 years. 

When It All Began

The controversy about the child’s paternity began in early 2020 when S.R.D. and his current wife set out to explore their genealogy on Ancestry.com in early 2020. The results from Ancestry.com showed that S.R.D did not have any genetic connection with A.D.

When making the decision, the superior court noted that paternity was a fact that needed to be known. According to Judge Megan King, failure to do so could mean perpetuating fraud. 

There is a possibility that S.R.D. is the child’s father, assuming that there was an error in Ancestry.com’s results. But the mother’s claim that a swab test is more harmful than the truth seems hollow and only raises suspicions that she may have something to hide. 

Life Turned Upside Down

The sad part of this story is that A.D.’s life has been turned upside down by the turn of events. The man she had known as a father all her life has withdrawn his paternity, suggesting that their relationship was anchored on a fraud perpetrated by her mother. 

While it’s a painful decision if you look at it from A.D.’s perspective, it doesn’t make sense to think that a man who feels they had been lied to about the paternity of a child doesn’t have a right to know the truth. 

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