Divided COA reverses, remands paternity dispute

January 31, 2018

A Pike County paternity case involving a child’s legal and biological fathers will continue in trial court after the Indiana Court of Appeals determined the legal father was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the biological father’s paternity action.

Kailei Poteet had an intimate relationship with two men around the same time, including Nathan Poteet, whom she eventually married in 2014. Before the marriage, Kailei gave birth in November 2012, and the child’s biological father was Justin Rodgers, the man she began a relationship with after originally ending her relationship with Nathan.

Nathan, however, formed a bond with the child and executed an affidavit to establish his paternity of the child in January 2015. Kailei also signed the affidavit, and when divorce proceedings began less than a year later, Nathan was granted parenting time during the pendency of the divorce.

Kailei eventually rekindled her relationship with Rodgers and petitioned to identify him as the child’s biological father. A subsequent DNA test established a 99.99 percent probability that Rodgers was the child’s biological parent, but Nathan moved to dismiss the paternity action, alleging the petition failed to state a claim for relief, was barred and was contrary to the child’s best interests.

The Pike Circuit Court granted the motion to dismiss, finding Kailei was estopped from bringing the action because she had signed the affidavit naming Nathan as her child’s legal father. The court further noted Rodgers had not filed a petition to establish paternity.

But a divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision Wednesday, with Judge Patricia Riley writing for the majority that Nathan was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Noting the “irregular” paternity proceedings created “instability and confusion” in the child’s life, the majority nevertheless determined there was a material question as to whether Rodgers provided support for the child.

Riley pointed to testimony that Rodgers had been living with Kailei for eight months before the paternity hearing and providing financial support to the child during that time. If that were true, then he and the mother could file a petition to establish Rodgers’ paternity more than two years after the child’s birth pursuant to Indiana Code section 31-14-5-3.

The majority joined by Judge Elaine Brown remanded the case for further proceedings, but Judge John Baker dissented based on I.C. 16-37-2-2.1(1). That statute holds that when a paternity affidavit has been executed, it cannot be rescinded short of fraud, duress, mistake or test results excluding the man in question as the father.

None of those factors were present in this case, Baker said, so I.C. 31-14-5-3 should not apply.

“To say that judicial action can trump a valid paternity affidavit even if the parties have not complied with Indiana Code section 16-37-2-2.1 is to render that statute meaningless, which is a result that should be avoided,” he said.

The case is In Re: The Paternity of I.I.P.: Kailei L. Poteet v. Justin Rodgers and Nathan T. Poteet, 63A01-1706-JP-1265.


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