On June 12, 2012, the Revocation of Paternity Act (RPA) was enacted, which changes standing for a potential biological father seeking to revoke an acknowledgment of parentage from what it was in the Acknowledgment of Parentage Act (APA). Issues regarding standing in paternity cases have been a source of much attention because they involve questions of whether a biological father’s rights are inviolate compared to the “rights” of an equitable father or, even, the rights and best interests of the child at issue. Paternity decisions have often been harsh as to the biological father based on the standing issue alone, i.e., alleged biological fathers have been deemed to lack standing to file a claim based on the marital status of the mother at the time of the child’s birth.
In the previous APA, only four persons had standing to file a claim to revoke an acknowledgment of parentage: 1) the mother of the child; 2) the man who signed the acknowledgment; 3) the child who is the subject of the acknowledgment; or 4) a prosecuting attorney. In the new RPA, a new person has been added to the list, and that is “an alleged father.” This change is significant because it affords fathers who believe to be the biological father of a child standing to file paternity actions where they otherwise had none.
The person filing the claim still has to show by clear and convincing evidence that the man who signed the acknowledgement of parentage is not the biological father of the child. There are numerous bases listed in the APA (and the new RPA) in order to advance a claim to revoke an acknowledgment. Under the APA, the person also had to demonstrate that, considering the equities of the case, the revocation was proper. Comparatively, with the new RPA, the Court may refuse to enter an order setting aside the acknowledgment if the Court finds that the revocation would not be in the child’s best interests.
The time limits to bring actions to set aside acknowledgments are significantly impacted by the enactment of the RPA. The RPA allows for actions of this type to be filed within one year of the enactment of the statute regardless of the age of the child or the date that the acknowledgment was signed. In the APA, actions could be pursued within 3 years of the birth of the child or 1 year after the signing of the acknowledgment of parentage. In other words, an alleged father who files a claim to revoke an acknowledgment of parentage under the new RPA can do so within 1 year of June 12, 2012 regardless of the age of the child or when the acknowledgment of parentage was signed. This alleged father would not have had standing at all under the APA, and he would have been precluded from pursuing an action if not filed within the prescribed time limits.
The change certainly opens the door for claims to be filed to revoke parentage for children that are old enough to have strong bonds and relationships with fathers who ultimately could be determined not to be biologically related to them. For example, a man can now claim to be the biological father of a 10-year old child who has known her father to be someone else her whole life so long as he files his action before June 12, 2013. At the very least, the filing of the action will likely invoke a paternity test involving the 10 year-old. The emotional and psychological impact that this type of dispute can have on a child and the child’s family can be devastating.
The landscape of paternity actions will surely continue to evolve in the future. As June 12, 2013 approaches, the door will close on the ability of alleged fathers to frustrate acknowledgments for older children. However, the changes made by the RPA are significant ones that will affect families in the future.