from the Order Entered October 12, 2018 In the Court of
Common Pleas of Huntingdon County Domestic Relations at Nos:
BEFORE: STABILE, J., MURRAY, J., and MUSMANNO, J.
C.A.W., an adult male, lived together with Appellee, S.M.C.,
an adult female, and Appellee's daughter
("Child") for almost twelve years. Appellant held
himself out as Child's father, supported Child
financially and claimed Child as a dependent on many of his
tax returns. After Appellant and Appellee ended their
relationship, Appellant refused to continue providing Child
with financial support and cut off virtually all contact with
Child. Appellee filed an action for child support, and the
trial court ordered Appellant to pay support under the
doctrine of paternity by estoppel. Based on the test for
paternity by estoppel articulated in K.E.M. v.
P.C.S., 38 A.3d 798 (Pa. 2012), we conclude that the
trial court acted within its discretion by requiring
Appellant to pay support. Accordingly, we affirm.
evidentiary hearings that included testimony from, Appellant,
and a child psychologist, Mark Peters, the court found the
following facts. In 2002, Child was born to Appellee and
H.N., the natural mother and father, respectively. Appellee
and H.N. never married, H.N. had virtually no contact with
Child, and H.N. never provided financial support or performed
parental duties for Child. Appellee filed a child support
action against H.N., but it was dismissed because he could
not be located.
January 2003, Appellee began an intimate relationship with
Appellant. From April 2003 through January 2015, Appellee and
Child lived together with Appellant in Appellant's home.
Appellant held himself out to be Child's father and
performed parental duties on Child's behalf, treating
Child the same as his own biological daughters. Appellant
referred to Child as his daughter when introducing her to
third parties, and Child referred to Appellant as her father
and/or her daddy. Appellant claimed the child dependency tax
exemption on his federal income tax returns for Child in tax
years 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2012. Appellee
was employed outside the home from 2007 through 2010, but her
income was insufficient to support Child.
January 2015, the relationship between Appellee and Appellant
ended. Appellee and Child left Appellant's house, and
Appellant stopped all financial support to Child and all
contact with Child, except for a few visits. Appellant also
began a new relationship with another woman. Appellee
obtained public assistance but has been unable to do anything
financially for Child, such as celebrate Christmas.
meeting with Child four times, child psychologist Peters
opined that Child viewed Appellant as her de facto
emotional parent and had a positive and stable relationship
with him while they resided together. Child reported that
their relationship changed after she left Appellant's
house. During the first hearing in this case, Appellant
walked by Child without acknowledging her, leaving Child hurt
and confused. Peters diagnosed Child as experiencing an
adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression.
on Peters' testimony, the court determined that Child
suffered a serious adverse emotional impact. The court also
concluded it was in Child's best interests to apply the
paternity by estoppel doctrine against Appellant and require
Appellant to pay support. The Huntingdon County Domestic
Relations Section calculated Appellant's support
obligation, and an interim support order was entered.
Appellant filed a timely de novo objection to the
interim order, which the trial court dismissed. This timely
appeal followed. The sole question in this appeal is whether
the trial court abused its discretion in concluding that
Appellant owed a duty of support under the paternity by
review support orders for abuse of discretion. V.E. v.
W.M., 54 A.3d 368, 369 (Pa. Super. 2012). We cannot
reverse the trial court's support determination unless it
is unsustainable on any valid ground. Kimock v.
Jones, 47 A.3d 850, 853-54 (Pa. Super. 2012). "An
abuse of discretion is not 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."
V.E., 54 A.3d at 369 (internal quotation marks and
brackets omitted). "The principal goal in child support
matters is to serve the best interests of the children
through the provision of reasonable expenses."
Mencer v. Ruch, 928 A.2d 294, 297 (Pa. Super. 2007).
Supreme Court has explained, the paternity by estoppel
doctrine permits a trial court to determine a child's
parentage for support purposes based on the actions of the
child's mother and/or putative father.
Estoppel in paternity actions is merely the legal
determination that because of a person's conduct
(e.g., holding out the child as his own, or
supporting the child) that person, regardless of his true
biological status, will not be permitted to deny parentage,
nor will the child's mother who has participated in this
conduct be permitted to sue a third party for support,
claiming that the third party is the true father. . . . [T]he
doctrine of estoppel in paternity actions is aimed at
achieving fairness as between the parents by holding them,
both mother and father, to their prior conduct regarding the
paternity of the child.
Fish v. Behers, 741 A.2d 721, 723 (Pa. 1999)
(quoting Freedman v. McCandless, 654 A.2d
529, 532-33 (Pa. 1995)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Estoppel rests on the public policy 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
that the father he had known all his life is not in fact his
father." T.E.B. v. C.A.B., 74 A.3d 170, 173
(Pa. Super. 2013).
paternity by estoppel doctrine may apply in circumstances
where the child's mother was never married to the
putative father. See R.K.J. v. S.P.K., 77 A.3d 33
(Pa. Super. 2013), appeal denied, 84 A.3d 1064 (Pa.
2014) (affirming the finding of paternity by estoppel where
the mother was married to another man at the time of the
child's birth, and where the mother and the putative
father resided together for six years but never married).
Moreover, the paternity by estoppel doctrine may apply even
where the putative father's relationship with the mother
began years after the child's birth and where it was
undisputed that the putative father was not the biological
father. SeeHamilton v. Hamilton, 795 A.2d
403 (Pa. Super. 2002) (affirming the finding of paternity by
estoppel where the putative father did not begin a
relationship with the child's mother until approximately
three years after the child's birth and where it ...