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Prince George's County Office of Child Support Enforcement ex rel v. Lovick

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

August 30, 2018

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY OFFICE OF CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT EX REL
v.
MICHAEL LOVICK

          Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CAS13-34966

          Eyler, Deborah S., Graeff, Nazarian, JJ.

          OPINION

          Nazarian, J.

         The Prince George's County Office of Child Support Enforcement (the "Office") appeals an order of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County setting aside affidavits of parentage that Michael Lovick had executed in the District of Columbia, where his long-time girlfriend had given birth to twins, and striking an earlier order requiring him to pay child support. The Office claims that the circuit court failed to extend full faith and credit to the D.C. affidavits and that the passage of more than two years precluded Mr. Lovick from seeking to set them aside. Mr. Lovick responds that his child support obligations are controlled by Maryland law, which allows a court to set aside a declaration of paternity after a court-ordered genetic test excludes him as the twins' father, as a test did here. We agree with Mr. Lovick and affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 4, 2011, Mr. Lovick's girlfriend, Angela Rice, gave birth to twin girls ("the twins") at Georgetown University Hospital in the District of Columbia. Mr. Lovick and Ms. Rice lived in Prince George's County at the time the twins were born, and both live there still. Two days after the twins' birth, Mr. Lovick signed, at the hospital, an Acknowledgment of Paternity (the "Acknowledgment" or the "affidavit") stating that he was the twins' father. As part of the Acknowledgment, Ms. Rice affirmed that Mr. Lovick was the only possible biological father of her children.

         The couple separated, and in February 2013, Ms. Rice filed a complaint in the circuit court seeking custody of the twins. She and Mr. Lovick later agreed to share legal custody and that Ms. Rice would have primary physical custody. After they entered this agreement, Mr. Lovick contacted the Office to initiate a child support case. A child support action was initiated, [1] and in February 2014, Mr. Lovick agreed to pay $1, 500 per month in child support.

         In May 2016, Mr. Lovick filed a motion to establish paternity in both cases and requested a court-ordered genetic test. This motion followed Mr. Lovick's discovery that Ms. Rice had been involved sexually with another man around the time the twins were conceived and the results of private genetic testing that revealed Mr. Lovick was not the twins' father. The circuit court denied the motion.

         On September 16, 2016, Mr. Lovick filed a new motion in the child support case to set aside the Acknowledgment on the basis of fraud. After a hearing in December, the circuit court ordered genetic testing and scheduled a follow-up hearing. The test results excluded any possibility that Mr. Lovick was the twins' father. And at the hearing, the circuit court agreed with Mr. Lovick that Ms. Rice had committed fraud:

Ms. Rice said he is the only possible father. And it's quite apparent that that was a lie. That was an out and out lie…. It's obvious that it's not Mr. Lovick. It's obvious that she lied on the affidavit… I can't, in good conscience, let Ms. Rice falsify that affidavit and charge this man with child support.

         On March 28, 2017, the circuit court entered an order setting aside the Acknowledgment of Paternity and striking the February 2014 child support order. The Office filed a timely appeal.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Office challenges, on three grounds, the circuit court's decisions to set aside the Acknowledgment of Parentage and strike the child support order.[2] First, the Office contends that the court should have applied the law of the District of Columbia, which prohibits challenges to Affidavits of Parentage more than two years after execution, and dismissed Mr. Lovick's motion to set aside his Affidavit. By applying Maryland law, the Office argues, the circuit court failed to extend full faith and credit to the Affidavit. Second, the Office asserts that Mr. Lovick could not prove fraud, duress, or a material mistake of fact in connection with the Affidavit. And third, the Office argues that Mr. Lovick is estopped from disclaiming the twins' paternity because, in the custody case, he had sought to increase his visitation with them after he learned that he was not their father.

         "When the trial court's decision involves an interpretation and application of Maryland statutory and case law, our Court must determine whether the lower court's conclusions are legally correct." Clickner v. Magothy River, 424 Md. 253, 266 (2012) (cleaned up). We will not set aside a circuit court's fact findings unless they are clearly erroneous, Clickner, 424 Md. at 266, but we review questions of law denovo. Harvey v. Marshall, 389 Md. 243, 257 (2005). Here, neither party disputes that Mr. Lovick is not the twins' biological ...


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