Court Reversed the Denial of a Paternity Test After Defendant Performed At-Home DNA Test Showing 0% Probability of Him Being the Father of a Nine-Year-Old Child
Docket No. A-0452-21
Decided October 7, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey Family Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished decision the Appellate Division of New Jersey reversed the denial of a paternity test after defendant performed at-home DNA test showing 0% probability of him being the father of a nine year old child.
In S.L.P. v. A.L.N., the parties were dating in 2011 when plaintiff became pregnant. Plaintiff told defendant he was the father of the child. Defendant did not question plaintiff’s representation and his name appears on the child’s birth certificate. About a month after the child was born, the parties ended their relationship.
Defendant lived in Texas. Over the course of the ensuing years, defendant never visited or contacted the child. He paid child support, but was over $18,000 in arrears as of August 2021.
Eventually, defendant moved to New Jersey. In April 2021, the parties appeared before the Family Part for the first time. The court granted plaintiff sole custody of the child and the parties agreed that defendant could have some parenting time.
Defendant visited with the child on only one occasion. During that visit, defendant took swab samples from both himself and the child for a “home DNA test.” Defendant sent the samples away for analysis and received a written report stating there was “0% Probability” that he was the child’s biological parent. Defendant testified that after he got the test results, he sent the report to plaintiff and asked “if there was a possibility that someone else could be the father.” She told him “no, she never had any dealings with anyone else except for [defendant] at the time.” Defendant then filed his motion to compel paternity testing through the Family Part.
The court served defendant’s motion upon plaintiff. She did not appear at the hearing on the motion. Defendant appeared and testified in support of his application. Defendant stated he suspected he was not the child’s father after seeing photographs of the child on social media. Therefore, defendant performed the home test, which he believed confirmed his suspicions.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court denied defendant’s motion. In a terse oral decision, the court stated it did not “have a basis for revisiting paternity at this point” because “[t]he child’s [nine] years old. This is something that should have been done many, many years ago and it wasn’t.” Although the court served plaintiff with defendant’s motion, it expressed a reluctance to consider the motion without plaintiff’s consent. The court also remarked that defendant was, “to a certain degree, the psychological father” of the child even though the two had only had one visit together.
Defendant appealed, and the Appellate Division found that the Court can only deny a request for a paternity test on good cause. Having received no opposition from the plaintiff, the Court should have granted the request. The Court’s indication that he was the psychological parent was also not supported by the record, as he only had one visit with the child. The order was reversed.
This court opinion is important to understand that a parent can request a paternity test at any time. The only principle preventing the test would be if the father was the “psychological parent” of the child. A parent becomes a psychological parent when they are involved in a child’s life to the point that they are embedded in the child’s mind as the parent even if they may not be the biological parent.
If you have questions about paternity tests, psychological parent, divorce, custody, parenting time, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, or mediation, contact the experienced custody attorneys at Hark & Hark today.
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