- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2002

Maryland's top court has ruled that a Cumberland man, who had agreed to pay child support believing he was a father, does not owe the $12,303 he failed to pay since the baby's birth nine years ago.
In a 4-3 vote, the Court of Appeals, in effect, said Nicholas Todd Walter, a cab and tow truck driver, doesn't have to make up the payments because DNA tests proved he was not the child's father.
"Without paternity, there is no legal duty; without a legal duty, there can be no financial obligation," according to the judgment written by Lynne A. Battaglia, former U.S. attorney for Maryland who was appointed to the court last year.
Judge Alan M. Wilner, among those who dissented, wrote, "The message will quickly spread: in paternity cases, you are a fool if you actually pay the child support."
Records state that Mr. Walter thought he was the father in 1993 when Michele Gunter, of Severn, insisted she hadn't had sex with other men in 1992 when the baby was conceived.
At the time, Mr. Walter agreed to pay $43 weekly in child support that was ordered by a judge. But Miss Gunter's relatives told Mr. Walter he was not the child's father.
The child-support payments were undependable and Mr. Walter was called into court several times on charges of civil contempt. He worked for four employers in the ensuing years, although he was injured in a work-related accident in 1996, and was hurt in a subsequent motor vehicle accident.
On March 30, 2000, Mr. Walter asked the court to modify the child-support payment because his injuries prevented him from working as a cabdriver. At the same time, he asked for genetic testing.
"He wanted a paternity test to prove that the child was, indeed, his," according to records. "The genetic testing, however, excluded Walter conclusively as the father of the child."
Mr. Walter then petitioned to be excused from paying any more child support and the arrearage. He also asked to be reimbursed for the support he had already paid.
Anne Arundel Circuit Judge James C. Cawood Jr. ruled last year that Mr. Walter could not get back the money he had already paid and was obligated to pay the unpaid support. Mr. Walter appealed.
"Without question, the biological and legal status of 'parenthood' in Walter's situation is now extinct," wrote Judge Battaglia.
The ruling reverses a 1994 decision by the state's highest court that a man who agreed to pay child support, but later discovered he was not the biological father, must continue to pay.
Mr. Walter's case is similar to a divorce suit two years ago when a father said he should not have to pay support for twin girls born in 1986 because they had been conceived by his wife with another man. He said she had been drunk at the time.
Judge Irma S. Raker stated then that the mother should identify the biological father. The court ruled that the "duty of child support extends to the natural parent of an illegitimate child, but not to a stepparent."

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