Note on a Kansas Case: A Child Claims a Father

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.

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6 responses to “Note on a Kansas Case: A Child Claims a Father

  1. 1. How could the “agreement” that he was not her father have been legal at the time?

    2. Even if the revocation of paternity was not legal, agreements between parents regarding child support are thought to be binding. You can’t come later and reverse them. Was it because the absolution from child support was tied to the revocation of paternity?

    3. I have issues with the whole retroactive child support obligation thing to begin with. But I suppose that’s a separate issue.

    • Your first question is a good one, but I suppose, if the parties to a divorce agree that husband is not the father of the child and if it appears that there is proper support for the child from the mother alone, a court would approve the agreement. Wouldn’t it also seem odd for a judge to challenge the agreement of the parties on this point, assuming it did not appear to place the child at risk?

      I think the answer to the second question is in the case, but it’s a little sticky. The divorcing couple did not make an agreement about child support. Once they said husband was not father, there was no basis for child support. The case might have looked different if there had been an agreement about child support, though one can never say for sure.

      To the extent one thinks that the child has an interest–perhaps even a right–to claim connection to particular people (parents), then it does make sense to me that the adults cannot agree to give away the child’s interest/right. That seems to be how the court looked at what was going on here. In a way, that’s not surprising. I think I might have predicted the outcome. On the other hand, suddenly being faced with 18 years of past child support does seem a bit surprising.

      • On the contrary, it would be much odder for a judge to revoke paternity based simply on an agreement. Since when does the law allow for that?

  2. Some random thoughts for consideration.

    Generally, child support belongs to the child, not the parents. Thus, any support agreement between parents which deviates from that which the jurisdiction deems reasonable, will be void.

    Clearly, something in the record permitted the original trial court to conclude the marital presumption did not apply and thus support was not required.

    Now, there is an argument to be made that Mom and Dad committed fraud, actual or otherwise, at the trial court level. The fraud or however you may want to title the agreement became evident at the new trial. The lack of a competing claim of paternity and the positive genetic test provided additional fuel for the new trial court and appellate division to find paternity, determine an arrearage and order it be paid.

    I just wonder of the motivations and actions of the parents at the time of the divorce and the effect those motivations and actions had and will have on this young woman.

  3. I also don’t imagine this will make for a harmonious father-daughter relationship. Something tells me the daughter did this out of revenge – to get back at her father possibly for not being a part of her life??? I can only guess, but the $63,000 will certainly cement whatever was or wasn’t there to begin with.

    • Although we can never really know, I do find myself thinking about the human stories behind the cases. Here I wonder, too, about the relationship between daughter and mother–after all, the mother agreed to a declaration that her soon-to-be-ex-husband was not the father and did not seek child support. Within weeks of coming of age, the daughter sought to alter this arrangment. I wonder how the daughter learned that she could pursue this action? I wonder when she consluted a lawyer?

      I don’t expect I’ll ever have answers to these questions–in all likelihood, the people involved would offer different answers and I have no way to choose between them. This is why I try to stick to discussing law. Still, I cannot help but wonder about the facts sometimes.

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