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COA: State had no authority to bring paternity action

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A trial court erred in ordering a southern Indiana teen to undergo genetic testing to establish paternity of a stillborn child, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Thursday. It found the state, which filed the petition for paternity on behalf of the mother, had no authority to bring the action because there were no custody or support issues to be determined.

In In re the Paternity of D.M.: J.W. v. C.M., 10A01-1306-JP-253, C.M. and her mother asked the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office for assistance in establishing paternity of D.M. C.M. gave birth at home to D.M., who was stillborn. C.M. indicated that she did not know that she was pregnant and did not have any prenatal care. She said J.W. was the father, which he denies.

C.M. assigned her rights to the state pursuant to an assignment for persons not receiving public assistance and Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. J.W. filed a motion to dismiss, arguing because of the circumstances of D.M.’s birth, there were no prenatal, birth or postnatal expenses to be reimbursed, nor was C.M. receiving services or assistance from the state which could be reimbursed.

The trial court, noting there is a “dearth of guidance by our appellate courts” in cases such as these, denied J.W.’s motion. The judge found J.W. should bear the cost of DNA testing if he chooses to do so.  

The Court of Appeals agreed there is a “dearth of guidance” on the particular point raised by this case, but disagreed with the decision to deny J.W.’s motion. In general, C.M., even though not receiving Title IV-D assistance, is allowed under state law to request the state’s assistance in pursuing a paternity action, and the state is authorized to do so.

But the purpose of Title IV-D and the Indiana Child Support program is to enforce support obligations owed to custodial parents and their children. Because J.W. would owe no support to D.M. even if his paternity was established, the state has no authority under the Indiana Child Support Program to bring this paternity action.

The prosecutor’s only interest in bringing a paternity action is to represent the child’s interests, but a stillborn child does not have any interests, the court held.

Paternity can still be established for a stillborn child, but just not in an action brought by the state. I.C. 31-14-4-1 provides a list of people or entities that may file a paternity action within two years of the child’s birth.

“Therefore, in an appropriate case, paternity of a stillborn child may be established for the purpose of recouping those costs,” Judge Margret Robb wrote.

 “Although we understand and sympathize with C.M. and her family and their wish to legally establish paternity for purposes of closure, respect, and learning the truth, these are not issues that the paternity statutes are intended to remedy,” she continued in a footnote.
 

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