December 5, 2013 § 2 Comments
Disestablishing parentage has been a statutory procedure since 2011, when the legislature adopted MCA 93-9-10. I posted here an annotated version of the provision that set out my opinion of how to plead and prove it.
The MSSC at last was presented with an opportunity to address its application in the case of Jones v. Mallett, et al., handed down November 14, 2013.
Terence Jones was involved in a romantic relationship with Annette Mallett in 2000. Mallett gave birth to a child on August 22 of that year. Mallett says that she told Jones he was not the father when she learned of the pregnancy. Jones claims that he did not learn that he was not the father until after signing the paternity agreement and birth certificate application, or as much as four months later.
Jones was listed as the father on the birth certificate, and he signed it. In October, 2000, he and DHS entered into a “Stipulated Agreement of Support and Admission of Paternity,” which was approved by order of the chancery court.
In December, 2010, Jones had a DNA test performed, which excluded him as the father. He filed an action in chancery court to disestablish paternity, rather than a MRCP 60(b)(5) or (6) motion. The chancellor eventually dismissed Terence’s pleading, based on MCA 93-9-10. Terence appealed.
The supreme court brushed aside Terence’s argument that the agreement was the result of a “material mistake of fact” under MCA 93-9-10(3)(b), finding that “The facts as presented do not establish sufficient circumstances for the application of subsection (b).” [ ¶7 ]
Terence also argued that subsections (c) and (d) must be read together, mandating a finding that he meets the criteria for disestablishment, but the court rejected that position, pointing out that (c) relates to stipulations of paternity, and (d) relates to stipulations of support, which are two different things.
That last point is critical to the case because (c) says that the court may not set aside an agreement of paternity that has been approved by the court (as this one had been). Subsection (d), on the other hand allows disestablishment of parentage if he signed an agreement of support without knowledge that he is not the father of the child. That without knowledge language is significantly absent from (c). Since Terence had signed both, he had no wiggle room.
To me, the MSSC is sending the signal via this opinion that the statute will be strictly applied.
No doubt the considerable passage of time from the signing of the paternity agreement to DNA testing and the filing of suit and eventual court appearance figured into the unhappy result for Terence.