In a typical child support proceeding brought under Article 4 of the Family Court Act, the child support is retroactive to the date of the filing of the child support petition. The Family Court is generally unable to grant child support to a date preceding the filing unless the child is receiving public assistance. However, where paternity is concerned, Family Court’s powers are much broader. Paternity proceedings are governed by Article 5 of the Family Court Act. Article 5 contains two sections that address child support, including costs of birth and related expenses: Section 514 and Section 545.
Under Section 514 of the Family Court Act, the father is liable to pay the reasonable expenses of the mother’s confinement and recovery and such reasonable expenses in connection with her pregnancy, as the court in its discretion may deem proper. What makes this significantly different from child support proceeding under Article 4 of the Family Court Act, usually Sections 412 and 413, is that the mother’s expenses typically occur well before the petition is filed and even before the child is born. While Section 514 gives the Family Court at least some discretion in apportioning such expenses, if the mother was receiving public assistance during her pregnancy, the father may be liable to the social services district furnishing such medical assistance and to the state department of social services for the full amount of medical assistance so expended. See Wayne County Dept. of Social Services ex rel. Van Dusen v. Petty, 273 A.D.2d 943 (4th Dept. 2000).
Under Section 545(1) of the Family Court Act, the father is responsible for child support, retroactive to the earlier of the date of the application for an order of filiation, or, if the children for whom support is sought are in receipt of public assistance, the date for which their eligibility for public assistance was effective. However, under Section 545(2) of the Family Court Act, the Family Court’s discretionary powers are much broader. Section 545(2) provides that the court, in its discretion, taking into consideration the means of the father and his ability to pay and the needs of the child, may direct the payment of a reasonable sum or periodic sums to the mother as reimbursement for the needs of the child accruing from the date of the birth of the child to the date of the application for an order of filiation. In my experience, in dealing with a petition brought under Section 545, the Family Court unambiguously focuses on the unwed father’s present ability to pay, as measured by his current resources and his earning capacity, and not what the unwed father’s ability to pay was at the time of birth. This may come as an unwelcome surprise to the unwed father if the petition is brought several years after the child is born.
Yet another difference between proceedings brought under Article 5 of the Family Court Act and Article 4 of the Family Court Act is that under Section 517 of the Family Court Act, proceedings to establish the paternity of a child and to establish liability for the mother’s expenses may be instituted during the pregnancy of the mother or after the birth of the child.
As a lawyer frequently dealing with these issues, I evaluate my clients’ financial situation at the time of the child’s birth and the time the petition is brought since the court will focus on my client’s ability to pay. I also analyze the mother’s finances within the same time frame and also the proof of payment of medical bills. Occasionally, these cases are won and lost on the issue of admissibility of the medical bills.