Stacy M. v. Jason M. – No Termination of Child Support Without Termination of Rights

If ever a father questions the paternity of a child, it may be best to address those suspicions early on.
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Failure to do may result in a situation similar to what plaintiff in Stacy M. v. Jason M. faced in a family law dispute before the Nebraska Supreme Court.

In that case, a father suspected his youngest son with his wife was not his biological child, but did not raise the issue in subsequent divorce proceedings. Years later, he completed genetic testing that proved his suspicions, and sought to have the child support terminated. However, he did not wish to severe the relationship with the child. The court essentially determined there would be no legal way to accomplish such a request.

In Indiana, child support may be terminated upon court approval if:

  • The child has turned 19;
  • The child is emancipated prior to age 19;
  • The child is at least 18 and hasn’t attended secondary school or post-secondary school and is capable of supporting himself;
  • The child is an active military member;
  • The child is married;
  • The child is not under the care or control of either parent or an individual or agency approved by the court;
  • The parent is not the biological parent of the child.

In some cases, courts may still order non-biological parents to pay child support, if they have served as a parent long-term.

In the Nebraska case, father had been ordered to pay $600 monthly for the support of his two youngest children, both born during the marriage. Though he suspected the younger child wasn’t his own, he did not make an issue of it until after the divorce. After receiving genetic testing that confirmed his suspicions, he filed a pleading requesting to suspend child support payments to his ex-wife for the younger child. He alleged she knew who the father was and refused to obtain child support from that individual. Mother denied this, alleging she was drugged after a night out of drinking at a bar with a friend.

While father wanted the child support obligation terminated, he did not wish to terminate his relationship with the youngest child. As he told the court, he always exercised his visitation rights with the child, and they celebrated holidays together, attended church together, went hunting and fishing and enjoyed other activities. He desired for that relationship to continue, but stated he did not feel he should be responsible to pay to support a child who was not biologically his own.

He indicated his income and employment hadn’t changed substantially, and paternity was the sole issue at hand.

The court denied father relief, reasoning a child born in wedlock is presumed to be the legitimate child of the parties, and while the law afforded father the right to disestablish paternity, he hadn’t sought relief under the applicable statute, as it would have caused him to also lose his parental rights.

Father appealed, and the case went directly to the supreme court, due to appellate court docket overloads. The state high court ruled trial court did not abuse its discretion in reaching this finding.

The court was quick to note that just because a man is not the biological father does not mean he isn’t the legal father. Parentage, the court stated, was typically contested during dissolution proceedings, though there are other remedies if it’s not brought up at that time.

However, there is no authority under that state law that would allow father to suspend child support without disestablishing paternity rights. We are similarly aware of no such statute that would apply in Indiana.

Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:
Stacy M. v. Jason M., Feb. 13, 2015, Nebraska Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Indiana Appeals Court Affirms Loss of Parental Rights, Cite Drug Use, Dec. 20, 2015, Northwest Indiana Divorce Lawyer