Calif. Court: Facebook Posts Do Not Outweigh Genetic Testing in Paternity Cases
On November 1, 2019, the California Second District Court of Appeal issued a published decision in County of Los Angeles v. Christopher W.
This case involved an unusual paternity dispute. A trial court held one man was a child’s legal father. The Court of Appeal disagreed. It found another man, identified by the mother as the biological father, was actually the father.
The mother had a relationship with a man named Christoper.
After that relationship ended, the mother learned she was pregnant. She informed Christoper that he was the father. But the parties did not resume their relationship. During her pregnancy, the mother started dating another man named Colin.
The mother gave birth to her child–identified in court records as “M.D.”–in May 2014. The birth certificate did not list a father. Christopher was present at the hospital for the birth. But he only interacted with M.D. on two other occasions afterwards.
Meanwhile, Colin and the mother moved in together. M.D. started referring to Colin as “daddy.”
Colin also posted photographs of himself and M.D. to his Facebook account. Some of the comments on the photos described Colin as M.D.’s father. However, Colin never told anyone he was M.D.’s father. Nor did the mother list Colin as the father on any official records.
In April 2015, Los Angeles County took legal action against Christopher.
The County argued that as the child’s father, Christopher should pay $1,420 per month in support. Christopher denied he was M.D.’s father. He further alleged Colin was the “presumed father” because he took M.D. into his home and “openly held him out as his son.”
Genetic testing confirmed Christopher was M.D.’s biological father. Nevertheless, a judge found Colin was the “presumed father.” The judge cited Colin’s Facebook posts as “dispositive” evidence he considered M.D. his son. The judge therefore ruled Colin was the legal father and Christopher did not have to support M.D.
The mother appealed the judge’s ruling.
The Second District agreed with her that the trial judge’s decision was incorrect. The appeals court explained the genetic testing created a presumption that Christopher was M.D.’s father. This presumption was “sufficient” to rebut any evidence (i.e., the Facebook posts) suggesting Colin was the father. And it was not in M.D’s interest to recognize Colin as his father–especially since neither the mother nor Colin sought such recognition.
San Francisco family law attorney Terry A. Szucsko said this case illustrates the importance of establishing legal paternity as early as possible in a child’s life.
“California law is designed to prevent ‘fatherless’ children. The Second District’s decision makes that clear. A biological father cannot avoid his child support obligations by trying to declare someone else the father. As the Court noted, such reasoning would ‘create a disincentive’ for other adults to become involved in a child’s life, less they be forced into a long-term support obligation.”