The issue in this case is whether a natural father can avoid his obligation to pay child support based on the principle of equitable estoppel.
The facts in this case, which have been stipulated by the parties, are as follows.
During the appropriate period in 1981, Michelle Camardo engaged in sexual activities with Joseph Boyle and Joseph Yocavitch. As a result of this activity, a child was born on November 30, 1981. His birth certificate lists his name as Justin Aloysius Camardo. Michelle, at that time, named Boyle as the father. Thereafter, Michelle sought and obtained public assistance. The Camden County Board of Social Services, in 1983, attempted to obtain reimbursement from Boyle. HLA tissue testing was done and Boyle was excluded as the father of Justin by the report of May 23, 1983. No other putative father was named.
On April 14, 1984, Michelle and Boyle married and Justin lived with them. During the course of the marriage, another child, Christopher, was born on July 18, 1985. The parties separated on August 22, 1987 and a final judgment of divorce was obtained by Michelle on October 13, 1988. During the course of their marriage, the child was known as Justin Boyle. He was enrolled in the Gloucester Township public schools as Justin A. Boyle, with Joseph Boyle listed as the father. While the official birth certificate lists the child's name as Justin Camardo, a certificate of vital record from the State of New Jersey, Department of Health, lists the child's name as Justin Boyle. Ms. Camardo states that while the child has been called Justin Boyle all of his life, his name was never legally changed from Justin Camardo.
In May 1988, Michelle sought child support from Boyle for both Christopher and Justin. Child support was granted for Christopher, but was denied for Justin. That order was consented to by both Michelle and Boyle. Custody of both Christopher and Justin was placed with Michelle. Subsequent to the divorce, a further child support order was entered on December 16, 1988 for Christopher alone. That also was consented to by Boyle. An additional child support order was consented to by Boyle for Christopher, increasing the prior payments on April 9, 1990.
While Boyle was married to Michelle, he treated Justin as his son, although he did favor Christopher over Justin and Justin was aware of this fact. Boyle represented to friends, acquaintances and the school authorities that Justin was his child.
Joseph Yocavitch knew that Michelle had two children and was married to Boyle. Yocavitch assumed that both children were the children of Boyle.
In 1990, Michelle, again, sought public assistance for Justin. At that time, she named Yocavitch as the father. The Camden County Board of Social Services brought the within action and service of the complaint for paternity and support was made on Yocavitch. It was then that Yocavitch first learned of the possibility that he was the father of Justin. Yocavitch was ordered to submit to HLA tissue testing and as a result of that test, Yocavitch was determined to be the biological father of Justin.
Yocavitch then filed a third-party complaint against Boyle, raising equitable estoppel and seeking to have Boyle held legally responsible to pay support on behalf of Justin.
Personal service could not be obtained upon Boyle and service was attempted by publication. No answer was filed by Boyle.
R. 4:4-4 sets forth a rule for service of a summons upon individuals in order to obtain in personam jurisdiction. Third-party plaintiff was unable to obtain personal service upon Boyle. He then attempted service under R. 4:4-5, which provides, inter alia, for service by publication in matrimonial actions when it shall appear by affidavit that a defendant cannot, after diligent inquiry, be served within the State.
Service upon Boyle by this method has not been obtained. The affidavit of counsel as to attempts at service upon Boyle indicate that the third-party defendant's place of employment in Mickletown, New Jersey, is known. Further, ...