stamp "Evidence"It is understandable that parents who “cannot afford” a lawyer will attempt to represent themselves in Family Court child support proceedings. Moreover, the Family Court is remarkably able to apply the law and make its determinations of issues presented by unrepresented parties. However, the fact that a party does not have a lawyer does not excuse following the rules nor presenting the proof needed by the Court to make those determinations.

Take the recent child support decision in Matter of Carol A.S. v. Mark H. There, the mother commenced a proceeding against a father in Kings County Family Court in order to establish his paternity of a college-attending daughter (under 21) and to provide support for the child. (A DNA test established was administered that established the father’s paternity.)

The decision of Judge Xavier E. Vargas went to pains to discuss the history of the case, noting the various adjournments that were granted in order to allow both parents the opportunity to gather the documentation the court needed for each party to establish his or her positions. The mother wanted the father to reimburse her for the college expenses paid for the daughter. The father claimed he regularly had been giving the daughter $600 per month by depositing that sum directly to the daughter’s account. He wanted credit for making those payments.Continue Reading Representing Yourself In Child Support Proceedings Has Its Risks

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There is perhaps no greater opportunity for courts to state their philosophies or to become instruments of social change than in cases involving the surnames of children of divorced and unmarried parents.

Take the March 29, 2011 Second Department case of Matter of Eberhardt. In that case, Mariah, the now nine-year-old daughter of Michelle Esquenazi and John Eberhardt, was born out of wedlock.  At the time of her birth, Mariah’s parents had been in a committed relationship and for a number of years and lived together with the mother’s three children from a prior marriage. Mariah’s birth certificate reflected the sole surname of her father. The father had acknowledged paternity. The parties’ intended wedding never took place. Approximately 1½ years after the child’s birth the father moved out. The mother maintained physical and legal custody, and the father visited regularly in accordance with an arrangement sanctioned by the Family Court.

In 2008, Ms. Esquenazi petitioned to change the child’s surname to Esquenazi-Erberhardt. Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Karen Murphy conducted a hearing at which the parties disputed the extent to which the father had been made aware that the child had been using the hyphenated surnames since age 2, and the extent of his protests once the use was known. Justice Murphy denied the mother’s petition, crediting the father’s testimony. Justice Murphy found that the objections of the father, who was emotionally and financially a part of Mariah’s life, were reasonable. The name change, Justice Murphy ruled, benefited the mother, not the child. To rule otherwise would reward the mother for her self-help and her knowing violation of the proper procedures for a name change under Civil Rights Law §§60 through 63.

A Second Department panel of three women and one man reversed, holding the father’s objections were not reasonable. Rather, his objections were raised to teach the mother a lesson. Moreover, the benefits to the child would not be denied simply to punish the mother for her self-help. Distinguishing the cases in which a mother was seeking to change the child’s surname to that of the mother, eliminating the father’s surname, the Second Department disagreed with Justice Murphy, and held:

[T]he emotional and financial involvement of the father is not a bar to a change to hyphenated surnames.

Continue Reading Changing the Name of the Child of Divorced or Unwed Parents