Child support ruling favors men found not to be biological fathers

January 10, 2002

Men who turn out not to be biological fathers cannot be forced to pay past-due child support, a deeply divided Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

In a 4-3 decision - which produced four opinions - the majority of the state's highest court said that "in the absence of `parenthood' status," the obligation to pay support disappears.

In two dissents, judges wrote that they feared the ruling will give an incentive for more men to wait years to seek paternity tests - until they have created their own legal problems by failing to pay support. The majority countered that the legislature can enact a time limit for paternity challenges.

The ruling stems from a case in which a Cumberland man initially agreed he was the father of a child of a Severn woman. When he challenged paternity in 2000, the child was 7, and he owed $11,228 - representing five years of support payments. Tests showed he was not the father and he appealed an Anne Arundel Circuit Court order that held him responsible for the back-due support.

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