The Second Department reversed Family Court and determined the petitioner was not estopped from denying his paternity of the child. No parental relationship had developed, the child did not know the petitioner and the mother had told the petitioner he was not the child’s father:
“The purpose of equitable estoppel is to prevent someone from enforcing rights that would work injustice on the person against whom enforcement is sought and who, while justifiably relying on the opposing party’s actions, has been misled into a detrimental change of position'” … . Thus, “a man who has held himself out to be the father of a child, so that a parent-child relationship developed between the two, may be estopped from denying paternity,” in light of the child’s justifiable reliance upon such representations, and the resulting harm that the man’s denial of paternity would engender … . “The doctrine in this way protects the status interests of a child in an already recognized and operative parent-child relationship'” … . The doctrine of equitable estoppel will be applied only where its use furthers the best interests of the subject child (see Family Ct Act § 418[a]…).
Here, the Family Court improvidently exercised its discretion in concluding that the petitioner was estopped from denying his paternity of the child (see Family Ct Act § 418[a]). The hearing evidence demonstrated that the petitioner did not have a parent-child relationship since the child was approximately three years old at the time when the petitioner learned from the mother that he was not the child’s father and the parties separated. The mother testified that the child did not know the petitioner as his father and that the two had not seen each other in years. There was no evidence that the child would suffer irreparable loss of status, destruction of her family image, or other harm to her physical or emotional well-being if this proceeding were permitted to go forward … . Matter of Felix M v Leonardo RC, 2014 NY Slip Op 04491, 2nd Dept 6-18-14