Order for Paternity Test to Enforce Child Support Obligation Reviewed by Appellate Court

The Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) asked the District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach to review a judge’s order directing the parties and minor child to submit to paternity testing to register and enforce a child support obligation from a court in Texas.

The mother in this case, Erin, had a child in Texas. The next day, the father Robert (who wasn’t married to Erin) signed an affidavit acknowledging paternity, and an order was subsequently issued by a Texas court finding him to be the father and establishing his child support obligation.

Erin moved with the child to Maine, and Robert now lives in Florida. The Florida Department of Revenue registered the Texas order in Florida pursuant to the state Uniform Interstate Family Support Act; however, Robert filed a motion requesting scientific paternity testing—claiming he might not be the biological father—based on his “investigation of [Erin’s] behavior during the time of conception of the minor child.” After a hearing with no testimony, the trial court granted Robert’s motion and ordered testing.

 

The Irreparable Harm Requirement

Judge Brian D. Lambert of the Fifth District Court of Appeal wrote in his opinion that to be entitled to relief, the State Department of Revenue had to establish that the circuit court order departs from the essential requirements of law and that the order would cause irreparable harm that can’t be cured on an appeal of the final judgment.

Here, the irreparable harm requirement allowing the appellate court to hear the appeal was satisfied, Judge Lambert explained, because any error in an order requiring a child to submit to paternity testing can’t be corrected once the genetic testing is completed. Next, the Court examined whether the order departs from the essential requirements of law. An order departs from the essential requirements of law when it violates “clearly established principles of law” which the Court said can come from “controlling case law, rules of court, statutes, and constitutional law.” Here, Judge Lambert and the appellate court concluded that the trial court’s order violates these principles.

First, the Court said that the proceeding before the trial court was to register and enforce the Texas child support after paternity had been conclusively established. Florida Statutes § 88.3151 says that “[a] party whose parentage of a child has been previously determined by or pursuant to law may not plead nonparentage as a defense to a proceeding under this act.” Next, Robert filed his motion for paternity testing pursuant to § 742.12, which—by its own terms—isn’t applicable to this case because that concerns “any proceeding to establish paternity.” The paternity of this child was established long ago, Judge Lambert said.

Finally, The Court noted that, although there are situations when a male may seek to disestablish paternity or terminate a child support obligation when he’s not the biological father, to do this requires the filing of a petition and affidavit with specific pleading requirements. Robert didn’t do that…plus, he acknowledged in his response to DOR’s petition that he wasn’t requesting the Florida court to disestablish paternity if the testing showed that he wasn’t the biological father and “understands that . . . he would have to go to the court that has jurisdiction to go forward with his action to disestablish paternity.”

In summary, Judge Lambert held that there was no basis for the trial court to order paternity testing because there wasn’t a paternity action pending. The Court said that the court order compelling paternity testing was like a discovery order, but “no party to any family law proceeding is entitled to an order requiring another party to submit to genetic testing unless:

  • the proceedings place paternity in controversy; and
  • good cause exists for the testing.

The trial court in this case didn’t make a finding of “good cause” in the order, and there was no testimony or evidence presented that could’ve supported that finding. Even if it was considered as a discovery order, it was entered in error.

The trial court’s order departed from the essential requirements of law and would cause irreparable harm that couldn’t be cured on appeal. As a result, the Department of Revenue’s petition was granted, and the trial court’s order was quashed. Department of Revenue v. Silva, Case No. 5D16-2470 (Fla. DCA 5th March 24, 2017).

 

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