Recent "Estoppel Ruling"
Pursuant to a recent Hawaii Supreme Court
ruling, once a determination of paternity is established in a court order
or judgment, it basically becomes permanent. This is the new state of the
law, at least until the Supreme Court amends this ruling to say otherwise.
The legal definition of estoppel
is a bar which precludes someone from denying the truth of a fact which
has already been admitted by that person’s own actions and/or determined
in an official proceeding or by an authoritative body. The concept of
“paternity by estoppel” means that if a court order or judgment names
the father of a child (or children), then no one can later successfully
litigate in court to change the now established “legal father” status
of the child or children.
This principle was enunciated by the Hawaii
Supreme Court in the case of Doe v. Doe, 99 Hawaii 1 (2002). The
Doe case made it clear that once paternity is decided in a court order or
judgment, then it can never be successfully challenged or revised in the
future. Since the establishment of paternity automatically triggers
custody and child support issues, this becomes an absolutely crucial
In the Doe case, the divorce decree named
the husband as the biological father Then, after the divorce, the mother
filed a petition for paternity alleging that another male was instead the
biological father of the children. The Hawaii Supreme Court agreed with
the Family Court and basically said “too bad” to Mom. She was
precluded from pursuing her paternity matter. The new rule appears to be,
“Once the father, always the father.”
This means that a mother and father need to
be absolutely sure that the named father is indeed the true biological
father before a court order or judgment which names a father is entered.
A divorce decree is a court order. A judgment of paternity is a
judgment. Such court orders naming a father are now basically irrevocable.
The children born to the wife during a
marriage are presumed to be the legal children of the husband. Amazingly
enough, this continues to hold true even if subsequent genetic testing
later shows that husband was not really the biological father.
Clients in paternity and/or divorce cases
must now be aware that they
The moral of this story is that males must
request genetic testing right away if they have any doubts that they are
the biological father. Conversely, moms must do likewise if they have any
doubts that the husband is not the biological father. In light of this new
ruling, it becomes tremendously important
that all parties to these sorts of cases discuss their options
immediately with an experienced family law attorney.
Bradley A. Coates, J.D., has been a practicing divorce attorney in
Honolulu for over 20 years. He
has been selected as Honolulu's Best Divorce Lawyer and is the founder of
Coates & Frey, Hawaii's largest family law firm.