Do I Owe Support if I Am Not The Biological Father?

Most people and in fact many lawyers are amazed that a man who holds himself out as a child’s father, either by fraud or mistake can be held accountable for child support. The theory in New York is called equitable estoppel. It means if you represent to the child and the world that you are in fact the father, you owe support. Even if you later learn that you are not the biological father. The Court of Appeals recently ruled on this issue. I suggest if you are in this situation, sit down and read the following case very carefully.

The Case of Mark D. and Shondel J.

In 1996, Shondel J. gave birth to a daughter in Guyana and named Mark D., a New Yorker, as the father based on their previous relationship. Despite not being present at the birth, Mark provided financial support and later signed official documents affirming his paternity and responsibilities, including a statement notarized in New York and registration in Guyana changing the child’s last name to his. He even named the child as a primary beneficiary on his life insurance policy.

However, in 2000, after initiating proceedings for visitation rights, Mark requested DNA testing which eventually proved that he was not the child’s biological father. Subsequently, he sought to disavow his paternity and discontinue support, leading to a legal battle over his responsibilities given his previous acknowledgment and the relationship he had developed with the child.

Court’s Decision on Equitable Estoppel

The case centered on whether Mark could be estopped from denying paternity. Equitable estoppel prevents an individual from asserting something contrary to what was previously represented if such a contradiction would unjustly harm another party who relied on the original representation. Here, the court found that the child had justifiably relied on Mark’s representation of being her father, which significantly influenced her sense of identity and emotional well-being.

The Family Court, and subsequently the Appellate Division, determined it was in the best interest of the child to prevent Mark from denying paternity. The courts emphasized that the child’s welfare and the stability of her familial relationships were paramount, outweighing the biological connection.

Implications of the Ruling

This ruling underscores the importance of the child’s best interests in paternity cases and highlights the potential consequences of assuming parental roles. It sets a precedent that the state’s interest in the welfare of the child can supersede the absence of a genetic link.


The decision reinforces the principle that parental responsibility extends beyond biological connections and is fundamentally linked to the welfare of the child. It serves as a crucial reminder of the legal and moral responsibilities that come with the role of a parent, whether by biological means or by social and emotional bonds.

This case exemplifies the complex nature of family law where the lines between legal obligations and moral responsibilities blur, emphasizing the need for careful consideration before assuming the role of a parent.

What is Equitable Estoppel?

Equitable estoppel is a legal doctrine used in various legal fields, including family law. It prevents an individual from going back on their word if it would unfairly harm another who has relied on that representation. In the context of child support in New York, this means:

  • Representation: A man represents himself as the father of a child, either publicly or directly to the child.
  • Reliance: The child relies on this representation for emotional or financial support.
  • Harm: It would harm the child if the man were allowed to deny paternity after such representation.

Key Points in New York Child Support Law

  1. Responsibility Despite Non-Biological Ties: If a man has established a father-like relationship with a child and the child has come to recognize this man as their father, he may be obligated to pay child support even if a biological relationship is later disproven.

  2. Recent Legal Rulings: The New York Court of Appeals has recently affirmed this stance, emphasizing that if a man assumes a parental role, he may be responsible for child support regardless of biological paternity.

  3. Case Study for Reference: For those finding themselves in a similar situation, it’s advisable to study relevant legal cases that have been adjudicated to understand better how the law might apply to their circumstances.

What to Do If You Are Affected?

If you are involved in a child support case where equitable estoppel might apply, consider the following steps:

  • Review Legal Precedents: Familiarize yourself with relevant case law, such as the recent ruling by the New York Court of Appeals.
  • Legal Consultation: Before making any decisions or declarations about paternity, consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney who can guide you based on the latest legal standards and rulings.
  • Consider the Child’s Best Interests: Recognize that the court’s primary concern is the welfare of the child, which includes maintaining stability and continuity in their care and emotional support.

Hiring a Brooklyn Child Support Attorney

If you’re facing complex family law issues like those described, it’s crucial to have experienced and reliable legal representation. Brian D. Perskin & Associates brings expertise and empathy to every case, ensuring your rights and interests are protected.

Contact us at 877-826-7257 today to get expert-guided legal representation.

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