A man who claimed for almost 13 years that he was the father of a child born during his marriage, despite evidence to the contrary, remains responsible for child support even after a paternity test proved otherwise, the Court of Special Appeals has held. A judge in Garrett County Circuit Court should not have granted Darren G. Kamp’s request for genetic testing without considering the best interests of the child, the appellate panel said. Because of that error, “it follows that the court erred in terminating [Kamp’s] child support obligation based on the paternity test results,” wrote Judge Ellen L. Hollander.
WHAT THE COURT HELD
Case: Dep’t of Human Resources, Garrett County DSS, Bureau of Support Enforcement, ex rel. Vicki Jo Duckworth v. Darren Gerald Kamp, CSA 2871, Sept. Term 2006. Reported. Opinion by Hollander, J. Filed May 30, 2008. Issue: Did the lower court err in ordering a genetic test and in terminating the child support obligation of a presumptive father who failed to contest paternity for almost 13 years? Holding: Yes; the lower court erred in ordering the genetic test because it failed to consider the best interests of the child, and erred in terminating the child support obligation because the genetic test was improperly ordered, the appellee’s legal status as father was never terminated and his claims were barred by laches and judicial estoppel. Counsel: Joseph B. Spillman for appellant; G. Gary Hanna for appellee.
Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph B. Spillman, who argued the case for the Garrett County Department of Social Services, felt the court came to the correct decision. “We certainly were pleased that the court made it clear that courts are required to give careful consideration of the best interest of the child before upsetting parental relationships established in divorce proceedings,” said Spillman. Kamp’s attorney, G. Gary Hanna, a solo practitioner in Cumberland, said recent events make him unsure of the case’s future. “We were disappointed with the decision, especially in light of the fact that the child and child’s mother have now completely left the jurisdiction,” said Hanna. “That is a subtlety that we weren’t able to tell to the Court of Special Appeals but since she’s now taken the child from the jurisdiction we really don’t know what will transpire.” Presumed parent Four children were born during Kamp’s marriage to Vicki Jo Duckworth, including a daughter who was born about four years after Kamp had a vasectomy, according to the appellate opinion. Despite allegedly knowing he was not the child’s father, Kamp held himself out as the girl’s father. Even when the parties divorced in 1999 and he was ordered to pay child support, Kamp did not dispute the girl’s paternity. In July 2005, the Department of Social Services filed a petition to increase Kamp’s child support obligation. Kamp then argued that the girl was not his biological daughter, but rather the child of a man with whom Duckworth was having sexual relations in 1992. The lower court ordered a paternity test, which excluded Kamp as the father. The court then terminated Kamp’s child support obligation for his daughter. DSS appealed, arguing that Kamp was precluded from contesting paternity and obligated to continue to pay support. Statutory duty Even if the test itself had been properly ordered, the appeals court said, it would have been an error to terminate child support because paternity was never terminated. “The decision made it clear that once a parental obligation is legally established the child support obligation continues unless parental rights are terminated,” said Spillman. Spillman said he thought the court placed great weight on the fact that Kamp never sought to terminate his parental rights. “One thing that does make this stand out a little bit … is Mr. Kamp did not want his parental rights terminated,” said Spillman. “He was seeking solely to have child support terminated.” Furthermore, the court found the burden was improperly placed on Duckworth to demonstrate that she could not get support from the girl’s biological father. “The best interest standard does not permit a court to cut off one source of a child’s economic support on a mere assumption that another source will arise to fill the void,” wrote Hollander. The court also held that Kamp’s claims were barred by the equitable doctrine of laches as he had waited almost 13 years to contest paternity, and that his request to seek termination of child support was barred by the doctrine of judicial estoppel because he informed the court on several occasions he was the girl’s father. “By waiting until 2005 to assert a paternity challenge … appellee slept on his rights,” the court wrote.
I read the Courts decision and I agreed. Although once the father hits economic hardship and is having trouble paying child support is it really in the best interest of the child? If you take food out of one childs mouth to feed another is that in the best interest of the child? If so which one? Once money becomes a factor in a parent child realtionship it can sever ties that the court claims is already built up! So what then?
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