Most people know that if you’re a parent and you don’t live with your child or children, the other parent will be able to get a child support order against you.
In the California case that I am about to discuss, there was a child support order but the man tried to get out of paying by arguing that he was not the father and asking for genetic testing. The trial court agreed with him, but on appeal, the outcome was reversed.
All of this happened in a case called County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court, a case certified for publication just three days ago. In this case, a court in Switzerland — back in 2010 — issued a judgment against a man named Barry and made orders that he pay monthly child support.
Three years later, in 2013, Switzerland asked California to “register” the Swiss judgment so that it could be enforced here. On December 31, 2013, Barry filed a request that the judgment not be registered in California, in part, because paternity was at issue. In Barry’s words, it was “not established in foreign order (sic)”.
At the hearing, which was held on February 18, 2014, the judge said:
Well, let me ask a dumb question to counsel. I won’t ask his client directly. Does Mr. Youngblood agree he’s the father?
The lawyer for Barry said that his client did not agree that he was the father. The judge responded:
Then I think, for now, we probably need to stay all collections.
There was a follow up hearing on June 27, 2014. The County of Los Angeles argued that to contest paternity at this point, one would have to get a genetic testing order from Switzerland (as opposed to California) under the terms of the Hague Convention. The judge, however, stuck to his guns:
I know it works. I want him to have testing. If he’s not the one, don’t clutter up my caseload. I don’t know that I can do that in this case yet, but I can talk with some people that do more international stuff than I do.
Los Angeles County filed papers with the Court of Appeal, which held 3-0 that there are only certain ways for someone to fight registration of a child support order from another state or another country and that “[g]enetic testing or lack thereof is not one of the enumerated bases for vacating the registration of a foreign support judgment. Neither is nonparentage”. Instead, the appeals court said, any challenge to the finding made by the Swiss court “must be brought in the issuing tribunal”.
Barry’s problem really came down to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”). As the justices in this case stated, “the state that first issued a child support order has ‘continuing, exclusive jurisdiction’ over the order ‘[a]s long as [the] state remains the residence of the obligor, the individual obligee, or the child for whose benefit the support order is issued'”. In short, “‘”the court of another state may enforce a child support order registered in that state, but may not modify it unless the decree state has lost its continuing, exclusive jurisdiction”‘”. This reasoning comes from a 2014 case called In re Marriage of Haugh, which is actually a child support case that originated in San Diego through the local branch of the Court of Appeal.
The opinion in Barry’s case was written by the Hon. Richard Kirschner. He was joined by Presiding Justice Paul Turner and Justice Lamar Baker. The appeal was brought by Los Angeles County, rather than the mother, because every county in California has a county Department of Child Support Services that helps custodial parents, upon their request, to establish, modify, or enforce child support orders.
As for why the case was brought in Switzerland, that’s where the mother and the child live. The father lives in California, so he was also upset that there even was a case in Switzerland, arguing that the courts of that country did not have personal jurisdiction over him. But that argument was not really dealt with in the Court of Appeal’s decision. Instead, the Court of Appeal noted that Barry “[had] not yet established that the Zurich court did not have personal jurisdiction and the trial court has not yet ruled on the matter”. So now the case goes back to the trial level with the local judge in charge of the matter but with directions from above not to have genetic testing done.
Although this case arose in Los Angeles County, it is binding on trial courts throughout California and may be cited as precedent by judges and lawyers. That’s because the Court of Appeal thought the case was important enough to order it to be formally “published”.