M.H.B. v. H.T.B.
100 N.J. 567, 498 A.2d 775 (1985)

  • Henry and Marilyn were married and had two kids. Then Marilyn went and got pregnant during an affair with another man. That led to the birth of K.B.
  • When Henry found out what happened, he moved out, leaving all three kids with Marilyn.
    • He did maintain friendly relations with all three children, even K.B.
  • After a few attempts at reconciliation, the couple eventually divorced. At first, Marilyn was granted custody of all three kids, and Henry paid child support. But after Henry remarried, his relationship with Marilyn deteriorated.
  • Both Henry and Marilyn petitioned the Court for full custody of all three kids.
    • Henry made an alternative claim that if couldn't have custody then he should not be required to pay child support for K.B.
  • The Trial Court found that Henry was precluded from asserting that he was not K.B.'s father due to equitable estoppel.
    • The Trial Court found that Henry had been acting as if he was K.B.'s father for a while, so he couldn't turn around and argue that he wasn't.
    • In addition, Henry had previously agreed to pay child support for K.B. That implied that he had accepted the fact it was his duty.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Henry appealed.
  • The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed in a very split decision.
    • The Court found that there is a four-part test to determine if a non-custodial parent is bound to continue child support due to equitable estoppel:
      • That the payor freely provided support after he learned he was not obligated to do so.
      • The custodial parent freely accepted the support.
      • The child relied on the support.
      • The situation must exist for a 'significant' period of time.
    • The New Jersey Supreme Court found that Henry met all four parts, and was therefore equitably estopped from contesting child support.
      • "Henry's actions throughout the marriage and following the divorce constituted a continuous course of conduct towards the child that was tantamount to a knowing and affirmative representation that he would support her as would a natural father."
      • The Court noted that Henry had repeatedly asked the courts for custody of K.B., which implied that he considered her his child.
    • Henry argued that under New Jersey law, he could contest parentage. However the Court found that, while true, even if he was legal found to not be K.B.'s parent, he could still be ordered to pay child support if it was found to be in the best interest of the child.
  • In a dissent it was argued that we know where K.B.'s biological father is. You never resort to equity when you can get support from the actual biological parent.
  • Some States (not New Jersey) have a Statute that says that any children conceived during an intact marriage, that child is irrebutably the child of the husband, even if DNA says otherwise.