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In re James B. G.
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Decision:		1997 ME 210
Docket:		Cum-97-239
Argued:		October 9, 1997
Decided :		October 31, 1997



	[¶1]  Wendy B. appeals from a judgment entered in the Cumberland
County Probate Court (Childs, J.) determining that her late husband,
James B., is the father of Joseph B. G.  On appeal, Wendy challenges the
procedure used in the Probate Court to reopen the case and to vacate a prior
order establishing that James was not the father of the child.  Wendy also
contends that the Probate Court lacks the statutory authority to determine
paternity, and that its judgment is void.  Because we agree with Wendy that
the statutory authority of the Court was not properly invoked, we vacate the
	[¶2]  Renee G. is the natural mother of Joseph, born on September
10, 1991.  At the time of Joseph's birth, the name of his natural father was
not entered on his birth certificate.  In 1994, Renee filed a petition for
determination of paternity in the Probate Court, alleging that James was the
father of Joseph.  James died on January 1, 1991.
	[¶3] The record reflects that the petition was filed solely to
determine the paternity of Joseph, and was not in conjunction with any
other probate proceeding.  The petition did not relate to James's estate or a
trust created by him.   Following a hearing on the petition, the court granted
Renee additional time to arrange for and submit blood testing and genetic
analysis of certain of James's relatives.  When Renee failed to submit the
additional evidence in the allotted time, the court entered an order
dismissing the petition.  Subsequently, the court granted Renee's motion to
reopen the order, admitted evidence purporting to establish the likelihood
of paternity, and entered an order determining that James was the father of
Joseph.{1}  This appeal followed.
	[¶4] Generally, when a child is born out of wedlock, the name of the
putative father may not be entered on child's birth certificate without
his written consent and that of the mother.  22 M.R.S.A. § 2761(4)
(1992 & Supp. 1996).  When the putative father has not given his written
consent, his name may be entered on the certificate if a court of competent
jurisdiction has made a determination of paternity.  Id.  The Uniform Act on
Paternity, 19 M.R.S.A. §§ 271-87 (1981 & Supp. 1996), provides that
paternity of a child may be determined upon the mother's complaint,
id. § 272, and vests jurisdiction over paternity actions in the Superior Court
or the District Court.  Id. § 275.{2} 
	[¶5] The Probate Court is a statutory court of limited jurisdiction and
its actions are void unless taken pursuant to statutory authority. 
In re Krystal S., 584 A.2d 672, 674 (Me. 1991).  The court has general
jurisdiction over cases relating to wills, trusts, and decedents' estates. 
4 M.R.S.A. § 251  1989).  The court's jurisdiction also extends to equitable
matters pertaining to such cases.  4 M.R.S.A. § 252 (1989).  The petition
filed by Renee did not relate to a will, trust, or estate; rather, it requested
the Probate Court to determine that James was the father of Joseph and
sought an order directing the Bureau of Vital Records to enter James's name
on Joseph's birth certificate.  Renee cites no statutory authority, and we find
none, that vests the Probate Court with jurisdiction over an action seeking a
declaratory judgment of paternity.{3}  The Probate Court does have
jurisdiction to determine a decedent's heirs, 18-A M.R.S.A. § 1-302(a)
(1981), but there was no vehicle before the court invoking that power.  See
generally Department of Corrections v. Superior Court, 622 A.2d 1131, 1135
(Me. 1993).  Because the statutory authority of the Probate Court was
not properly invoked in this declaratory judgment action seeking a
determination of paternity, its order is void.  Accordingly, we do not reach
Wendy's other contentions. 
	The entry is:
Judgment vacated.  Remanded for the entry of
an order of dismissal.

Attorney for appellant: Stephen C. Whiting, Esq., (orally) Douglas, Whiting, Denham & Rodgers P O Box 7108 Portland, ME 04112-7108 Attorney for appellee: Diane M. Edgecomb, Esq., (orally) 28 State Street, Suite # 4 Gorham, ME 04038
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} Wendy contends that the procedure used in the Probate Court resulting in the vacating of the prior order and a determination of paternity was irregular. {2} On October 1, 1997, title 19 was repealed and replaced by title 19-A. P.L. 1995, ch. 694, §§ B-1, B-2 (effective October 1, 1997). Under title 19-A, the Superior Court or the District Court has jurisdiction over an action to establish paternity. P.L. 1995, ch. 694 , § B-2 . {3} Although we recognize that the Probate Court has the power to determine paternity of a child born out of wedlock in the context of an adoption proceeding, 19 M.R.S.A. §§ 1103(1)(E), 1111 (Supp. 1996) repealed by P.L. 1995, ch. 694, § B-1 (effective October 1, 1997), we reject Renee's suggestion that similarities between this proceeding and an adoption empower the Probate Court to determine paternity in this action.