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When an issue is before a court for resolution, and the complaining party could have addressed the issue in the proceeding, such as attacking the false testimony or misrepresentation through cross-examination and other evidence, then the improper conduct, even though it may be perjury, is intrinsic fraud and an attack on a final judgment based on such fraud must be made within one year of the entry of the judgment. The issue of paternity misrepresentation in marital dissolution proceedings is a matter of intrinsic fraud. It is not extrinsic fraud, or a fraud upon the court, that can form the basis for relief from judgment more than a year later.
Appellant former husband Richard Parker alleged in his petition that during his marriage with appellee wife Margaret Parker, a minor child was born. Appellee represented to appellant that he was the biological father; appellant had no reason to suspect otherwise. The parties entered into a marital settlement agreement which obligated appellant to pay monthly child support. This was incorporated into the final judgment of marriage proceeding. Appellee wife filed a motion for contempt and enforcement, alleging that appellant owed her certain monies for child support and the child's medical expenses. One week later, appellant subjected the child to DNA paternity testing, to which the testing excluded appellant as the child's biological father. Appellant filed petition for relief from a child support order in a marital dissolution decree based on fraud and alleged that appellee defrauded him during their marital dissolution by misrepresenting the paternity of a minor child born during the marriage. He further alleged that this misrepresentation resulted in his child support obligation. The trial court dismissed the petition with prejudice. Appellant appealed the order.
Did the trial court’s correctly dismissed appellant’s petition for relief from a child support order in a marital dissolution decree based on fraud?
The court affirmed the dismissal of appellant’s petition. The appellate court analyzed the petition under Fla. R. Civ. P. 1. 540, and held that since appellant did not present his DNA test results showing that the child was not his biological child until more than a year after the dissolution decree was entered, appellant’s action was an attempt to set aside the dissolution decree's paternity and child support obligations for extrinsic fraud on the court. The court held that the basic misrepresentation concerned an issue that could have been raised in the dissolution proceedings, rather than an issue collateral to those proceedings. Additionally, appellee’s failure to disclose the child's true parentage was intrinsic fraud, regardless of whether her silence was relied on by the husband in entering into a marriage settlement agreement as to child support. The court also held that a conflict with M.A.F. v. G.L.K was certified. Further, the court ruled that a one-year window was after a divorce was effectively created to perform any DNA testing or to be forever barred. Any policy considerations that would compel a different result were best addressed by the Florida legislature.