Sunday, December 9, 2007

Paternity - Reimbursing for Childbirth Costs

In the Matter of the Paternity of A.R.S.A.; Alberto S. Meneses v. Rudit A. Legunes (PDF format) has constitutional rights and statutory interpretation along with the requirement of a father to reimburse Medicaid for childbirth expenses.

Interpreting statutes seems rather dry work but it is bread and butter for appellate courts - even more so than interpreting constitutional rights. The statute's plain language starts (and pretty much ends) statutory interpretation in Indiana. Front and center in this case were the following statutes:

IC 31-14-17-1 Expenses of mother's pregnancy and childbirth
The court shall order the father to pay at least fifty percent (50%) of the reasonable and necessary expenses of the mother's pregnancy and childbirth, including the cost of:
(1) prenatal care;
(2) delivery;
(3) hospitalization; and
(4) postnatal care.
IC 31-14-11-3 Expenses for child's higher education and health care; Title IV-D fees
(a) Where appropriate, the support order may include:
(2) special medical, hospital, or dental expenses necessary to serve the best interests of the child;
(3) fees mandated under Title IV-D of the federal Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 651 through 669); and
(4) basic health and hospitalization insurance coverage for the child.
The Court of Appeals held that in this case, the expenses were postnatal and thus father was liable for them under IC 31-14-17-1. Postnatal as the child needed care at the time of birth and not later. If not for the child's immediate care, then IC 31-14-11-3 would apply.

Constitutional rights always bring a heightened interest to a case. Here father argued that IC 31-14-17-1 violated his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. After all, the State of Indiana cannot compel married men to pay the birthing and postnatal expenses for their children. The Court of Appeals makes short shrift of the equal protection argument.

Father made another constitutional argument that holds more interest. Father specifically argued that Indiana's requiring him to pay fifty percent of the child's birth expenses without consideration of his ability to pay violated his federal due process rights. In itself, the argument may not seem very impressive to those that know due process only requires notice and right to be heard but not any particular outcome. Again, the Court of Appeals shoots down this argument.

So what is so interesting about this argument? The opinion describes how far federal law penetrates into family law which was once purely a preserve of state law. Protecting our federal expenses is a good thing, but is requiring a set amount to be paid without concern to the ability to pay also a good thing? More esoteric points also come to mind but that question sums up the principal point about this argument.

No comments: