I think this recent case is worthy of a brief note. It’s slightly unusual, though not (to my mind) a surprising outcome.
Jessica Jantzen was born on October 20, 1988. At the time, her mother, Diana K. Williams was married to Kenneth Jantzen. Jantzen was listed on the birth certificate as Jessica’s father.
Diana Williams and Kenneth Jantzen separated a year later. When they divorced, they entered into an agreement that Kenneth Jantzen was not Jessica’s father. There was no mention of any child support obligation on the part of Kenneth Jantzen, I assume because of the agreement that he was not Jessica’s father.
Now flash forward to a few weeks after Jessica turned 18. (This would be 2006, I would imagine.) Jessica commenced a parentage action, seeking to establish that Kenneth Jantzen was her father. (No one else had ever been declared to be her father.) Jessica sought past child support.
After she began her action, the court ordered genetic testing. The tests showed to a 99.99% probabilty that Kenneth was indeed genetically related to her. Nevertheless, Kenneth objected to the order of paternity (and the child support) because of the past agreement and because no child support had been ordered at the time of the divorce.
The trial court entered and order of paternity and ordered payment of almost $63,000 in past due support. In the opinion here, the appellate court appeals.
What makes this case unusual is that generally disputes about paternity are litigated between various adults claiming that they or other adults are or are not parents. There are scores of those cases on the blog. It’s unusual to have a case litigated by a child (albeit and adult child) seeking to claim a parent.
But in some ways, that configuration makes the outcome of this case pretty simple. This isn’t a divorce case, it’s a paternity case. Kenneth is subject, by statute, to a presumption of parentage (he was married to the mother when the child was born.) He cannot rebut the presumption. (He might have been able to had the blood tests come out differently, of course.) Thus, he is the father of Jessica.
The divorce decree does not rebut the presumption. Critically, Jessica wasn’t a party to the divorce–children never are. A court finding might carry some weight, but an agreement between the parties cannot bind her.
It’s notable, to me at least, that the basis for the finding of paternity is not the nearly conclusive genetic testing. Instead it is the operation of the marital presumption. The same result would have been reached with no blood tests at all. Only a blood test showing Kenneth to be unrelated to Jessica could have had legal significance, as this might have rebutted the presumption.