Appeal from the Order Entered August 12, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lazarus, J.
Domestic Relations at No(s): 00591 N 2011 & PACSES #255112387
BEFORE: STEVENS, P.J., LAZARUS, J., and COLVILLE, J.*fn1
Mother gave birth to M.E. in April of 2011. Nine days after the child was born, Mother filed a complaint against W.M. seeking child support. W.M. filed preliminary objections, denying paternity, averring that his father,
W.M., Sr., is the child's biological father. W.M. also averred that Mother is estopped from asserting he is the father under the doctrine of paternity by estoppel because:
1. Plaintiff has, by her conduct, accepted the Defendant's father, [W.M., Sr.] as the father of her minor child, [M.E.]. . .
2. Defendant's father, [W.M., Sr.] signed the minor child's birth certificate, as the child's father, at the time of birth.
3. Defendant's father, [W.M., Sr.], accepted the minor child as his own by holding it out [to be his] and/or supporting the child.
Preliminary Objections, 6/23/2011, ¶ 3.
On August 13, 2011, the court held a hearing on the preliminary objections. The trial court determined as a matter of law that the defense of paternity by estoppel was not applicable and, therefore, it refused a hearing on that issue. At that time, M.E. was four months old, and, therefore, the court reasoned that application of the doctrine of paternity by estoppel would not advance its underlying public policy.
On appeal, W.M. claims the court erred in ordering genetic testing without an evidentiary hearing on the issue of paternity by estoppel and in summarily determining that paternity by estoppel was not applicable. We find no error. The trial court properly disposed of the estoppel issue in accordance with Pa.R.C.P. 1910.15 and the relevant case law.
"Appellate review of support matters is governed by an abuse of discretion standard." Warfield v. Warfield, 815 A.2d 1073, 1075 (Pa. Super. 2003). "An abuse of discretion is '[n]ot merely an error of judgment, but if in reaching a conclusion the law is overridden or misapplied, or the judgment exercised is manifestly unreasonable, or the result of partiality, prejudice, bias or ill-will, as shown by the evidence of record.'" Id. (quoting Bowser v. Blom, 807 A.2d 830, 834 (Pa. 2002)).
"[T]he doctrine of estoppel embodies the fiction that, regardless of biology, in the absence of a marriage, the person who has cared for the child is the parent." Brinkley v. King, 701 A.2d 176, 180 (Pa. 1997). An individual may be "estopped from challenging paternity where that person has by his or her conduct accepted a given person as the father of the ...