The courts have a long history of involvement with issues related to parental rights and obligations. With rapidly changing societal norms and the ease of paternity testing, there has been a great deal of confusion about the definition of a “legal parent” and even what constitutes a “family”.
In Massachusetts there was a very controversial case (Paternity of Cheryl, 434mass.23.32746n.e.2nd 488, 2001) involving paternity. The Mass. Supreme Judicial Court was asked to review a case in which a man signed an acknowledgment of paternity and did not take advantage of paternity testing and later discovered that he was not the biological father. Should he be treated as the father and be responsible child support? The Court found in this case that family stability outweighed the non-biological father’s rights. This, in effect, meant that the non-biological father was determined to be the legal father and must continue to provide child support.
New issues related to this case are coming to the fore. I have recently been involved in two cases dealing with variants of issues related to this case. In one case, the biological father didn’t know that he was the father or even that the mother was pregnant until there was a court action several years later. Another man had signed a paternity acknowledgment making him the legal father. The juvenile court in this case found that biological father didn’t have any standing in determining issues related to custody, even though he was in fact the biological father.