Temporary Support in a Paternity Case

December 2, 2015 § 2 Comments

Is there a right to a temporary hearing in a paternity case? If so, by what authority?

We know that chancellors in divorce cases may grant temporary relief per MCA 93-5-17(2), which allows the judge to make orders for “temporary alimony, temporary custody of children and temporary child support and make all proper orders and judgments thereon.”

In paternity cases, however, you can search high and low in Title 93, Chapter 9, dealing with paternity actions, and you will not find a similar statute conferring temporary authority. So, does that mean you can’t have a temporary hearing in a paternity action?

In a word, no.

The answer is in MCA 93-11-56(10), which states:

Upon motion of a party requesting temporary child support pending a determination of parentage, temporary support shall be ordered if there is clear and convincing evidence of paternity on the basis of genetic tests or other evidence, unless the court makes written findings of fact on the record that the award of temporary support would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case.

I have had a lawyer argue that if paternity is uncontested, then there is no pending determination, so temporary relief should be denied. I disagree for the reason that I believe the “determination of parentage” means a final judgment. If there is no final judgment, then I think temporary relief is appropriate, as it would be in a divorce.

So, is the court limited by the language of the statute to temporary support only, leaving the parties to play tug-of-war with the child until a final hearing can be had? I think that would be an absurd result. Section 93-11-65 gives the court general authority to hear custody determinations. Chancery courts are charged to do what is in the best interest of the child. In my opinion, the court must act.

Next time you are asked by a chancellor by what authority you are asking for temporary relief in a paternity case, cite MCA 93-11-65(10). You won’t find it among the paternity statutes.

As a side note, our legislature has amended the custody and support statutes repeatedly to accommodate requests by DHS to address issues they have faced. As a result, we have a mish-mash of conflicting and unclear language, some of which is difficult to harmonize with standard practice in chancery court. One of many examples is the TPR statute that was clearly amended to address DHS concerns, but as a result became inoperable between private parties as a result, as pointed out in this post on the MSSC’s decision in Chism v. Bright. It would be great if some commission could study these statutes, clarify them, distinguish between chancery and county court actions where appropriate, and remove the ambiguities.

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§ 2 Responses to Temporary Support in a Paternity Case

  • It is my understanding that there is a group that includes Prof. David Caulder at Ole Miss Law School looking into making recommendations to the state legislature for amending the TRP statute to address the Chism v. Bright conundrum.

    • Larry says:

      Yes, that is correct. I have seen a proposal that is pretty sweeping. I would have preferred injecting some “or” language into the existing statute, but anything will be better than what we have. I hope.

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