Nancy Darlene M. v. James Lee M., Jr

In Nancy Darlene M. v. James Lee M., Jr., 184 W. Va. 447, 400 S.E.2d 882 (1990), the alleged father and former husband in Nancy Darlene had sought to terminate child support payments, despite the existence of an acknowledgment in the divorce order that he was the father of the child in question. 184 W. Va. at 448, 400 S.E.2d at 883. The mother contended that the alleged father was "barred from challenging that issue of paternity because he did not appeal this issue within the then-prescribed period of eight months." Id. at 450, 400 S.E.2d at 885. The Court agreed, relying upon precedent and general principles of res judicata, and held that "'adjudication in a divorce or annulment action concerning the paternity of a child is res judicata as to the husband or wife in any subsequent action or proceeding.'" Id. The Court also examined the issue of finality in paternity determinations and reasoned as follows: If we were to recognize that the appellee could continue to raise the issue of paternity nearly five years after the birth of his putative daughter, then our domestic relations law would be replete with cases in which paternity is denied, and, consequently, child support payments, necessary for the daily needs of children's lives, would never be met. 184 W. Va. at 451, 400 S.E.2d at 886. The Court concluded as follows in syllabus point one of Nancy Darlene : An adjudication of paternity, which is expressed in a divorce order, is res judicata as to the husband and wife in any subsequent proceeding. Therefore, the provisions of W.Va.Code, 48A-7-26 1986, part of the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, W.Va.Code, 48A-7-1 to 48A-7-41, as amended, which authorizes the adjudication of paternity under certain circumstances is not applicable if an adjudication of paternity is expressed in the divorce order. Id. at 448, 400 S.E.2d at 883. In sum, the putative father, James Lee, observed his wife, Nancy Darlene, having sex with another man before she discovered that she was pregnant with L.D.M. Nancy Darlene M. subsequently told James Lee that he was not the father of the unborn child. Nevertheless, during divorce proceedings, James Lee opined that he was the father of the child. As a result, the divorce decree stated as much. James Lee did not challenge paternity until a hearing was held on his failure to pay child support. At that point, James Lee was required to undergo blood tests. The Court held that the original divorce decree was res judicata, and the trial court should not have ordered or considered blood tests to determine paternity.