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Pa. court upholds support decision

Huntingdon judge had ruled man financially responsible for child not biologically his

A decision by a Huntingdon County judge who cited a rare doctrine to require an area man to pay support for a child he didn’t father has been upheld by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

The appeals court opinion issued last week cited the doctrine of “paternity by estoppel” to require a Huntingdon County man to pay support to the child’s mother, with whom he lived for 12 years.

The couple — whose names were not mentioned in the Superior Court opinion — never married, and when they broke up in 2015, the man ceased financial assistance to the mother.

The child was the result of the mother’s out-of-wedlock affair with another man in the early 2000s.

The mother, who experienced financial hardship due to the breakup, sought child support through Altoona attorney Joel D. Peppetti.

The father, represented by Huntingdon attorney Gregory Alan Jackson, argued he wasn’t required to pay support.

Huntingdon Judge Stewart L. Kurtz indicated the unusual circumstances of the relationships that existed in the case:

The man met the mother when the child was an infant.

For 12 years, he held himself out as the child’s father and supported her financially.

The child considered the man to be her father.

The man for several years cited the child as a dependent on his tax returns.

The Superior Court concluded the man had treated the child “the same as his own biological daughters.”

Most importantly, according to the court, the child considered the man her father, but that relationship changed after the couple separated.

The man rarely saw the child after separation, and at one point, he walked by her without acknowledgement.

That left the child “hurt and confused,” according to the Superior Court opinion.

A psychologist diagnosed the child as experiencing “an adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression.”

The county judge concluded, “the child suffered a serious adverse emotional impact” from the snub.

He concluded that after acknowledging the child as his daughter for so many years, the man was required to pay support. He cited the doctrine of paternity by estoppel.

The Superior Court opinion written by Judge Victor P. Stabile explained that the doctrine relies on a public policy concern that “children should be secure in knowing who their parents are.”

“If a certain person has acted as the parent and bonded with the child, the child should not be required to suffer the potentially damaging trauma that may come from being told the father (she) had known all her life is not in fact (her) father,” the Superior Court stated.

It pointed out that the state Supreme Court ruled recently paternity by estoppel continues to remain good law in Pennsylvania.

The man’s attorney presented a 2013 case in which a stepfather was not required to pay support, but the Stabile opinion argued that case was different in many ways from the Huntingdon County case.

The Superior Court concluded that the Huntingdon judge did not abuse his power by requiring the Huntingdon man to pay support.

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