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A man who discovered after 30 years that the child he raised was not his own cannot seek child-support reimbursement from the biological father, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday. The New Jersey Parentage Act’s statute of repose provides virtually no exceptions that would allow a claim for compensation after the child reaches the age of 23, the unanimous Court held in R.A.C. v. P.J.S. , A-5-06. The justices overturned an Appellate Division ruling that found the biological father, known as “Patrick,” and the mother, “Bonnie,” engaged in a pattern of deception to conceal from the putative father, “Roy,” the true father of the son, “Darren.” “Had Patrick’s conduct involved overt trickery or active deception to induce Roy into not bringing a child support action, the outcome might be different,” Justice Barry Albin wrote for the Court. “That kind of wrongful conduct, which denies a putative plaintiff access to the courthouse, is different in kind from what we have here.” In 1969, Bonnie became pregnant after an extramarital affair with Patrick. In the ensuing years, Bonnie had noticed that Darren did not resemble his siblings and she began to believe that Patrick was his father. Patrick, who is worth millions of dollars and has his own family, agreed to keep the truth to himself at Bonnie’s request. For unrelated reasons, Bonnie and Roy divorced. When Darren was planning to get married in 1996, Bonnie feared he carried the gene for muscular dystrophy, which had afflicted Patrick’s children, so she told Darren that Patrick might be his father. She waited three years to tell Roy, who then sued Patrick and Bonnie, claiming he was entitled to reimbursement for child support. DNA testing showed Patrick was the father. Morris County Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury dismissed the suit against Bonnie but ordered Patrick to reimburse Roy $109,696 he had paid Bonnie in child support. Hansbury found that the statute of repose did not apply to the reimbursement claim, and the appeals court affirmed. Albin found otherwise, holding that the language of the statute is clear: no action shall be brought under the statute more than five years after the child attains the age of majority. Darren was 31 when Roy sued. “By setting a fixed time period, the Legislature evidently understood that there would be cases, perhaps many cases, in which paternity would not be established within the twenty-three-year timeframe and that a biological father who bore the responsibility of raising and supporting a child would be relieved of his obligation,” Albin said. “The Legislature evidently knew what has been known since time immemorial – that children would be born of adulterous relationships and that the true identity of the father might not be known for more than twenty-three years. The repose statute does not carve out any exceptions for such situations.” Albin said the well-developed body of caselaw holds that when the statute of repose expires, there can be no cause of action absent outright fraud. That did not appear to be the case here because Bonnie decided to keep the affair secret in an effort to protect Roy and Darren, he said. Albin said the Court sympathized with Roy, calling the matter a “sad, heartbreaking case of a man who learned that an essential truth had been withheld from him for thirty years.” “In no way do we mean to deprecate Roy’s suffering or sense of betrayal,” said Albin. “He built a life based on a false foundation. But for more than thirty years, Roy has presented Darren to the world as his son and he has enjoyed a son’s love and companionship that has deepened even with this litigation.” If Patrick broke his silence, Albin said, there could have been “grave consequences” for both families. “We cannot conclude that the Legislature intended Patrick to lose the protection of the repose statute unless he came forward with information that surely would have broken up both his and Bonnie’s marriages,” he said. Patrick’s lawyer, Melvyn Bergstein, says the ruling is a “thoughtful and human application” of the Parentage Act and its statute of repose. “This is an extremely human problem the Court is dealing with,” says Bergstein, of Roseland’s Walder, Hayden & Brogan. “This case was about more than money. There is much more here. It is about a woman’s right to protect the privacy of her family.” Roy’s lawyer, Anthony Marchetta of Morristown’s Day Pitney, did not return a telephone call seeking comment. During oral arguments last November, Marchetta argued that Patrick should not be allowed hide behind the Parentage Act. “The activities of the defendant require no protection,” he told the Court. “Be responsible for the consequences of your conduct.” During the arguments, it appeared that the justices would be unwilling to impose a financial obligation on Patrick now, especially because Roy and Darren had, and continue to have, a close relationship. “Benefits were conferred on your client,” Albin told Marchetta. “The plaintiff had all the benefits of parentage, all the joy. The defendant’s been denied the relationship with his son.”

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