Mother asks Prosecutor’s Office for Assistance Establishing Paternity

Case: In re the Paternity of D.M.: J.W. v. C.M.
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court abused its discretion in a paternity matter when it ordered a man alleged to be the father to undergo genetic testing, since the child was stillborn and there were no custody or support issues to be determined.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother gave birth at home to a stillborn Child in 2012. Previously, Mother, who was a minor, was unaware that she was pregnant. Mother believed J.W. to have fathered Child, which J.W. denied.

Mother asked the county prosecutor’s office for assistance in establishing paternity pursuant to Title IV-D. The State filed a petition to establish paternity as Child’s next friend. J.W. filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that due to the circumstances — no prenatal, birth, or postnatal expenses, nor did Mother receive any state support – that the State’s petition should be dismissed.

At a hearing, Mother’s mom testified that she wished to establish paternity for “closure” and “to know the truth of what happened.” Mother acknowledged her pregnancy involved no expenses. The State acknowledged that no money was owed to it. After the hearing, J.W.’s motion to dismiss was denied, from which he appealed.

First, the Court of Appeals reviewed Title IV-D and its underlying purpose to enforce child support obligations. Because J.W. would owe no money to Mother even if paternity were established, the State had no authority to bring the Title IV-D action.

Second, the Court reviewed the propriety of the petition under Indiana’s paternity statutes generally. The paternity statutes expressly state that an otherwise proper action is not barred by “death or stillbirth of the child….”  However, the State’s basis for bringing an action on behalf of a child is to preserve various legal interests of a child. Since a stillborn child has no such interests, the State had no authority to bring the paternity action under Indiana statute.

The Court also noted that, even though the State lacked authority, in the right case, a mother could proceed with a paternity action regarding a stillborn child to recover expenses of the pregnancy, for example. But the purpose behind the instant action – essentially, to satisfy a curiosity — is not recognized by the paternity statute.

The trial court’s judgment was reversed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In re the Paternity of D.M.: J.W. v. C.M.

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The Indiana Family Law Update is a free service provided by the Matrimonial Law Group of Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP. While significant efforts are made to ensure an accurate summary and reproduction of each opinion, readers are advised to verify all content and analysis with a traditional case law reporter before relying on the content and analysis offered here.
ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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