Case update: Hughes v. Hughes and parentage by estoppel

By John H. Helmers, Jr.

On January 4, the Court of Appeals of Kentucky rendered a 2-1 opinion in the case of Hughes v. Hughes. It is the Kentucky courts’ latest foray into what has been an ongoing string of cases involving disputed parentage.

In this case, the state’s second-highest court ordered the Appellant, Anthony Hughes, to pay child support for a child that is not his biological child. The Court reasoned that, since he had waited too long (almost 10 years after he found out that he was not the child’s father), he should be required to continue paying $1,009 per month in child support. In the course of divorce proceedings in 2000, the Appellant had admitted he was the child’s father; he had been paying child support for the children that were his biological children since the divorce was finalized in 2001; he then sought a court order to stop all child support payments when the youngest of them turned 18 in 2011. Writing for the panel, Judge Clayton held that, having waited for such a length of time, the Appellant should have to continue paying child support. The Court also based its decision upon the concept of “parentage  by estoppel,” which forbids nonparents from litigating paternity issues when they have waived them by inaction or silence. The Court of Appeals recognized that this is a fairly new concept in Kentucky law. The Court’s opinion has been ordered to be published.

Writing a strong dissent in the Hughes case was Judge Thompson, who found such a result inequitable. Further, the dissent states that the case is similar to the case of Wheat v. Commonweath, 217 S.W. 3d 266 (Ky. App. 2007), in which the Court of Appeals reached the opposite conclusion.

The  wide spread use of DNA testing has resulted in number of reported cases on the issue of paternity. The courts in Kentucky have yet to articulate a clear statement of the law. But rest assured, the family law attorneys at Goldberg Simpson will monitor developments in order to keep abreast of this area of the law that is so much in flux.