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A Manhattan appellate court has ruled that a man cannot challenge the paternity of two children who regarded him as their father until they were 12 and 14. The decision by the Appellate Division, 1st Department, reversed a decision by Manhattan Family Court authorizing genetic testing to determine paternity. The man had sought to have a support order vacated on the grounds that he was not the children’s father. The appellate panel said in Jose M. v. Jeanette M. that the man should be “equitably estopped” from pursuing his challenge, which it said was not in the best interests of the children. “Respondent was named on the children’s birth certificates and agreed to raise them despite his knowledge that they were not biologically his, he supported them financially, regularly visited them, encouraged the development of a father-son relationship with each of them and held himself out as their father,” the court said. The unanimous panel included Presiding Justice Eugene Nardelli and Justices Betty Ellerin, Milton Williams, Alfred Lerner and James Catterson. Jose and Jeanette M. were married in 1984 and separated the following year. They were still legally married in 2002 when the matter was heard in Family Court. Ms. M. gave birth to three children during the marriage. She testified that she knew the two younger children, Thomas and Daniel, were not the biological children of her husband. But she said they decided to raise the children together and tell them the truth when they were older. When Mr. M. became seriously involved with another woman in 2000, he stopped visiting Thomas and Daniel. Ms. M. testified that she then told the children the names of their true fathers. The appellate court said testing would confer little benefit to the children under such circumstances. “Both boys were hurt and angered by respondent’s withdrawal from their lives and his apparent desire to have as little to do with them as possible,” the court wrote. “The harm has largely been done.” The appellate court said the only interest served by the paternity challenge would be Mr. M.’s. “[H]e should not be permitted to have the children declared illegitimate for the sole purpose of furthering his own self-interest by avoiding child support obligations,” the panel wrote.

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