In case of first impression, MA Probate Court judge invalidates voluntary acknowledgment of paternity
Issue: An individual claimed he was a legal heir entitled to inherit from a deceased man’s intestate estate based on a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity signed and notarized in 2010 by the claimant’s biological mother and the man while he was alive – even though he knew he was not the father.
Challenge: In the absence of controlling precedents in Massachusetts, the firm had to persuade a Probate Court judge to invalidate the voluntary acknowledgement of paternity. Under Massachusetts law, a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity is considered final and binding unless either signatory rescinds an acknowledgment within 60 days of the date of signing or it is challenged within one year based on fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact.
Solution: The firm successfully argued that the paternity acknowledgment should not stand. The judge – implicitly rejecting the doctrine of adoption by estoppel, recognized only by a handful of states – found that the 2010 voluntary acknowledgment was void because both parties knew at the time they executed the document that it did not accurately reflect the parentage of the child in question, and had the man truly intended to adopt the woman’s child he easily could have done so but did not. In a case of first impression, the judge invalidated the paternity acknowledgment and declared the claimant was not a legal heir.
The firm, representing the deceased man’s sister who had been nominated as his attorney in fact in conjunction with a Special Personal Representative, also persuaded the judge to annul the marriage between the woman and man due to the man’s lack of capacity to enter a marriage contract at the time of the 2019 civil wedding ceremony, rendering moot the woman’s Complaint for Separate Support. The last time a reported Massachusetts appellate decision annulled a marriage following the death of a spouse was in 1818.
The decedent died intestate in June 2020 and was survived by several siblings.
Attorney: Richard M. Novitch