FAMILY PART. MORRIS COUNTY
Marianne Espinosa Murphy, J.s.c.
MARIANNE ESPINOSA MURPHY, J.S.C.
In Miller v. Miller, 97 N.J. 154, 478 A.2d 351 (1984) the Supreme Court held that in appropriate cases, a permanent support obligation may be imposed on a stepparent on the basis of equitable estoppel. The question raised by this case is whether a biological father who has provided no support for a child may avail himself of this doctrine to terminate his support obligation.
J.W.P. brought this paternity action against W.W. on November 1, 1989, approximately 16 months after the birth of her son Z.J.P. The Plaintiff's husband, J.H.P., was joined in this action upon the motion of Defendant, W.W. In addition to denying
paternity, W.W. asserts that the paternity claim should be barred for a variety of equitable reasons.
J.W.P. and J.H.P. were married on February 24, 1985. Approximately six months later, their son, W.J.P., was born. In March 1987, J.W.P. and J.H.P. attended a St. Patrick's Day party where J.W.P. met W.W., a former schoolmate of J.H.P.'s, and his wife. The two couples became quite friendly, seeing each other frequently. Both J.W.P. and W.W. testified that they became intimate and separated from their respective spouses in late August, just five months after their initial meeting.
In September, W.W. and J.W.P. rented a house, opened a joint bank account and discussed obtaining divorces so they could marry. They agreed to attend to W.W.'s divorce first. J.W.P. accompanied W.W. to an attorney's office where this topic was discussed and a $650 retainer paid with a check from their joint checking account.
J.W.P. testified that W.W. repeatedly expressed a desire to have a child with her and knowingly approved of her failure to use contraception. Since she had not ovulated in ten months, it was necessary for her to receive progesterone injections and take Provera. Pregnancy tests administered in August and in September proved to be negative. During the course of a physical examination in late October or early November, her physician advised her that she was pregnant. This conclusion was confirmed by a blood test on November 6, 1987.
Although J.W.P. and W.W. did not live together continuously during this period (September to November 1987), J.W.P. stated that they continued to have sexual relations and that she did not have sexual relations with her husband during this time. W.W. denies that he had sexual relations with J.W.P. after September 1987. In late November 1987, J.W.P. returned to the residence she shared with her husband. Although he knew she was pregnant, J.H.P. was still interested in preserving their marriage. J.W.P. stated that she continued her relationship
with W.W. until February 1988, deciding at that time to work on her marriage. Despite his earlier promises to provide for their child, W.W. would not return her calls when the baby was born in July 1988.
J.W.P. listed her husband as the child's father for the birth certificate and the child has used his surname since birth. She testified that, at W.W.'s request, visitation was arranged on several occasions from February to May 1989. Although he expressed an interest in resuming a ...