Be Wary Ye Paternity Payor Who Returns To The Family

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When a published opinion starts with “family law is not getting any easier” in the first paragraph and “the question is of first impression in California”in the second paragraph you know something big is about to follow. . .  Well, so starts the opinion in Helgestad v. Vargas.

Allyson and George never get married. They did live together and have two children. Then they broke up, agreed to a paternity judgment that establishes father’s paternity, created visitations rights for him, and obligated him to pay child support.  Later Allyson and George reconcile and George moves back into the house with Allyson and the children.  George also stops paying his court ordered child support but does start paying rent to the landlord of the house.  After nine months the couple breaks up again, and George moves out again.

The question of first impression is this: In a paternity proceeding does George get credit for the voluntary contributions he made to support the family during those nine months (the rent payments) against the guideline child support that he is ordered to pay pursuant to the judgment?

Note — In a dissolution action George would get so-called Jackson credits. Jackson v. Jackson (1975) 51 Cal.App.3d 363.

The court goes through an exhaustive analysis of the relevant credit/no-credit cases from California and beyond and ultimately decides that George MIGHT get credit.

When George moved back into the residence he began making rent payments to the landlord, who just happened to by Allyson’s father.  The problem for the court is that Allyson was not paying rent to her dad when George  was not living there.  The Court of Appeal remanded to the trial court to determine, in light of its first impression analysis, if George should get credit.

What it boils down to is whether or not the parent pursuing credit has stepped into the shoes of the other parent and begun paying a debt that the other parent had actually been paying.  Had Allyson been paying rent to her dad, and George then took over those payments, he would get credit.  When the case gets back to the trial court I am not so sure George is going to get any credit.

Please click here to read the Helgestad opinion.

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