Disestablishment of Paternity, Arrearages

A recent Fifth District Court of Appeals case held that a disestablishment of paternity action does not relieve the alleged father of any previously established child support arrearages. In Hickman v. Milsap, the mother brought a paternity action against the father and child support was ultimately established. The father was ordered to pay $751 per month and the court established an arrearage totaling $20,277. Several years later, the Father had a DNA test administered and it was determined that he is not the father. He filed an action to disestablish paternity and ultimately the court found he was not the father, disestablished paternity and terminated his ongoing child support. However, the trial court held he was still responsible for the child support arrearage totaling $20,777.

He appealed and the fifth district court of appeal ultimately agreed with the trial court. The Florida statute, section 742.18, which deals with disestablishment of paternity states that the disestablishment of paternity “relief shall be limited to issues of prospective child support payments and termination of parental rights, custody, and visitation rights. . . All previous lawful actions taken based on reliance on the [male’s previous status as father] are confirmed retroactively but not prospectively.” The father argued that the language which states “prospective child support payments” should include all future payments, which would include his future payments towards the arrearage. The trial court did not agree with the father and ultimately held that he is responsible for paying back the child support arrearage even though he is not the child’s biological father. The father could have ultimately avoided the arrearage by seeking a DNA test in the initial child support case. This ruling may seem harsh and unfair. That is why it is in your best interest to always have an expert family law attorney help guide you through the legal process to avoid seemingly harsh, unfair rulings and to act zealously to protect your interests.

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