Revocation of Paternity: DNA tests can show 'mistake of fact'

Case Discussed:

ROGERS v. WCISEL

MiLW No. 07-89613

Michigan Court of Appeals - Unpublished

An unmarried couple engage in a long-term romantic relationship that is dogged by infidelity. The Plaintiff gives birth to a child, claiming to the Defendant that he is the father. He accepts this claim and signs an Acknowledgment of Paternity while the Plaintiff and her child are still at the hospital post-birth. The Defendant has some misgivings about his being the father due to gossip and certain statements made by the Plaintiff.

The Defendant later pursues a DNA test of the child, which conclusively proves he is not the biological father of the child. The Defendant seeks to be absolved of his legal and financial duties to the child. The Defendant files a action in civil court for Revocation of Paternity pursuant to MCL 722.1437, Michigan's Revocation of Paternity Act.

The trial court denies the Defendant's motion on the basis that he did not have a sufficient mistake of fact, because he was at least 'somewhat' aware that he may not have been the biological father of the child at issue. The Michigan Court of Appeals (MCA) disagreed, citing several appellate cases with similar factual examples where an unchallenged DNA test result was considered sufficient to establish a mistake of fact by the moving party.

The appellate cases cited by the MCA included:

Bay County Prosecutor v. Nugent, 276 Mich.App 183; 740 NW2d 678 (2007)

Sinicropi v. Mazurek, 273 Mich.App 149; 729 NW2d 256 (2006)

Helton v. Beaman, 304 Mich.App 97, 105; 850 NW2d 515 (2014)

What to take away from this case?

These cases probably give some hope to those who acknowledged paternity despite having some misgivings. People generally want to do the "right thing," and may sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity in a hospital settings despite having legitimate reasons not to do so. It is a quintessentially human behavior to do something that their instincts tell them to avoid, but do it anyway because of the human capital at stake. Many men have later regretted signing an Acknowledgement, but that moment they didn't want to let people down, spoil the mood, seem weak or uncaring, et cetera. Cases like Rogers allow for some relief for those parties. My personal take is that such findings are good policy for the people of the State of Michigan, despite the uncertainty it might also create.

Closing Thoughts

Revocation of paternity is incredibly fact-specific. The successful litigants in Rogers, Bay County, Sinicropi and Helton all had the facts on their side. A successful revocation of paternity is not always possible, however. I encourage any reader of this blog post who has a potential issue regarding an acknowledgement of paternity to speak with local family law attorneys to discover how the law may apply to their specific facts.

Full opinion available here, courtesy of FindLaw

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