PR 01215.025 Michigan

A. PR 83-032 Entitlement to Child's Benefits Pursuant to Court - Approved Agreement to Pay Support in Michigan Paternity Action - Robert E. F~, DWE, Joshua B. J~, Claimant

DATE: October 17, 1983

1. SYLLABUS

DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN STATUTES OF LEGITIMATION AND INHERITANCE — MICHIGAN

Where a court orders an alleged father to make support payments based upon an agreement between the parties in settlement of the dispute without any finding of paternity and without basing its findings on any provision requiring child support, there is no finding of paternity that would satisfy the requirement that a court order of support be issued "because the applicant was his son or daughter." (F~~ Robert E., ~ — RAV (D~), to ARC, 10/17/83.)

2. OPINION

This responds to your request for assistance in determining whether Joshua B. J~ is entitled to benefits as the child of Robert E. F~. We conclude, for the reasons discussed below, that he is not entitled to benefits.

The relevant facts may be briefly summarized: Joshua B. J~ was born to Candace J~ on February 1, 1978 in Saginaw, Michigan. No father's name was listed on the birth certificate. Candace J~ was never married to the wage earner, Robert E. F~. The wage earner died on May 11, 1981. There is no evidence that would establish the claimant's right to inherit from the wage earner under Michigan law.

The sole question presented is whether the claimant is entitled to benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 416(h)(3)(c)(i)(III), based on a finding that the wage earner "had been ordered by a court to contribute to the support of the [claimant] because the [claimant] was his son or daughter." The claims folder contains a court order, dated January 16, 1979, approving a compromise and settlement in a Michigan paternity action brought by Candace J~ against the wage earner. The order states that the wage earner denied paternity but that the parties had agreed to settle the action. The wage earner agreed to pay $2,500 in full settlement of the action, $1,000 upon execution of the agreement and the remainder at the rate of $40 per week pursuant to a wage assignment. The order then states that the foregoing sum "shall stand in full settlement and compromise on any claim made by the plaintiff relative to the obligations of said defendant." The court also stated that the agreement of the parties barred all other remedies of Candace and Joshua J~ for the support and education of the child. Finally, the order stated that '"the Court does hereby approve said settlement pursuant to MCL 722.713." 1/

We conclude that this order approving the settlement does not represent an order for the wage earner to contribute to the support of the claimant "because the [claimant] was his son." The court did not make a finding of paternity, did not render a judgment for the plaintiff based on her complaint, and did not issue its order under any statute requiring a parent to support his child. The wage earner did not admit paternity. Under these circumstances, . ú we believe that the rationale expressed in our opinion in Delmar B~, RA:V (P~) to Reg. Rep., BRSI, 6/24/69, is fully applicable here:

About all that can be derived [from the court order approving the settlement] is the conclusion that the court ordered him to make these payments simply because he had agreed to do so in order to settle the paternity action brought against him, without admitting paternity. By so doing, as permitted by statute, he avoided the risk of possibly being found to be the father of the child-claimant, an event which might possibly have created for him financial liability for the child- claimant's support and other expenses in an amount greater than that stipulated by the settlement agreement. It seems clear enough to us that Congress, by including the phrase "because the applicant was his son or daughter" in the pertinent court order for contributions to support clause of section 216(h)(3)(C), supra, intended to exclude situations just like this where, although there is a settlement of a paternity action, there is neither an admission nor a judicial finding of paternity. In situations like this, while there is a possibility that the person settling such an action may actually be the child's father there is also the possibility that while he is actually not he simply wishes to avoid the possibility of being so adjudged.

We adopt that rationale here and find that there is no tenable basis for concluding that the January 16, 1979 order was an order directing the wage earner to contribute to the support of the claimant because she was his daughter.

The Michigan statute referred to by the court in its order, M.C.L.A. 722.713 (West), provides that:

  1. An agreement or compromise made by the mother or child or by some authorized person on their behalf with the. father concerning the support and education of the child shall be binding upon the mother and the child only when the court having jurisdiction to compel support and education of the child shall have determined that adequate provision is reasonably secured by payment or otherwise and has approved the agreement or compromise.

  2. The performance of the agreement or compromise, when so approved, shall bar other remedies of the mother or child for the support and education of the child. (emphasis supplied).

The statute refers to a court-approved agreement between the mother of the child and the "father." Although the issue is not free from doubt, we believe that the reference to "father" is strictly precatory and does not indicate that either the settlement or the court's approval of the settlement is necessarily based on the putative father's actual paternity. While Michigan courts have not directly decided whether a court-approved agreement under the statute carries connotations of actual paternity, we believe that the court in Van Laar v. Rozema, 288 N.W.2d 667 (Mich. App. 1980) accurately characterized the statute in stating that "M.C.L.A. 722.713 permits the mother and putative father to reach an agreement or compromise for the support and education of an illegitimate child in lieu of proceeding to trial on the paternity issue" (emphasis supplied). Indeed, the operative condition set forth in the statute for court approval of a settlement is not that the putative father actually be the father of the child but that adequate provision for the support and education of the child be secured by the agreement, regardless of the existence of paternity. Moreover, in People v. Gill, 226 N.W. 214 (Mich. 1929), the court held that an agreed settlement in a paternity proceeding (later rejected by the county welfare board under then-applicable law) was subsequently inadmissible as tending to show paternity. The statute therefore does no more than grant a court authority to approve a settlement in the best interests of a child and dispose of a paternity action.

This opinion does not mean that a court order directing a putative father to pay pursuant to a settlement can never satisfy the requirement of Section 216(h)(3)(C)(i)(III) that the wage earner "had been ordered by a court to contribute to the support of the applicant because the applicant was his son or daughter." Obviously, a settlement may follow a paternity hearing and the court in this and other situations may approve a settlement based on an ex- press or implicit finding of paternity (such as when the court refers to "his child"). Similarly, if the wage earner has admitted paternity or the court approves the settlement order under, or otherwise refers to, a statute requiring a father to support his child, the statutory requirement will be met. Indeed, this requirement may be satisfied even though the court makes no reference to paternity in approving the settlement, so long as the surrounding circumstances give rise to a conclusion that the court so acted "because the [claimant] was [the wage earner's] son or daughter." Here, the wage earner denied paternity, and the court's order was based solely on its approval of the settlement in order to dispose of the paternity action.

Finally, we address an opinion dated March 4, 1980 by the Acting Assistant Regional Commissioner in a similar case. This opinion is contained in the claims folder. Oscar M~, Acting ARC, Programs, Region V (W~) to Director, GLPSC, 3/4/80. The opinion briefly refers to a court order directing payments of "child support," based on a compromise agreement in which the putative father denied paternity, and states that despite the lack of an admission of paternity or a court declaration of paternity, "there is no reasonable doubt that the court ordered the support payments on the grounds that Oscar M. M~ was the child's father." We have no quarrel with this aspect of the opinion; as we have just discussed, a court-approved settlement may under appropriate circumstances satisfy the requirements of the statute even in the absence of an express admission or finding of paternity. Without knowing the specific facts of M~, we may assume, as the opinion indicates, that the court approved the settlement and directed payment of "child support" because "Oscar M. M~ was the child's father." We have reached an opposite conclusion based on the facts of this case. How- ever, the M~ opinion also suggests that a court order of support may itself be sufficient for purposes of entitlement even though the order does not indicate, either expressly or by implication, that the wage earner is the child's parent, since if this were not so, "there would be little point in having a separate 'court order for support' test as an alternative to the 'written acknowledgement' and 'court finding of' paternity' tests."

We disagree with this latter aspect of the March 4, 1980 opinion. Under the clear language Of the statute, the mere fact that the court orders support is insufficient; instead, the court must do so "because the applicant was his son or daughter." As we have discussed, a court order approving a settlement or otherwise ordering support need not name the wage earner as the child's parent so long as it is apparent that the court acted "because" the wage earner was the child's father. Moreover, a court may order support "because of" paternity even though the wage earner has not acknowledged paternity in writing - as when the wage earner acknowledges paternity in open court - or even though the court has not actually decreed the wage earner to be the father of the child - as when the court simply renders judgment for the plain- tiff based on her complaint or issues its order under a statute requiring a parent to support his child. Admittedly, the three alternative tests set forth in Section 216(h)(3)(C) may overlap, and there are many cases that may satisfy more than one of those tests. Nevertheless, the three tests are distinct, and many cases will only satisfy one test.

Accordingly, we conclude that Joshua J~ is not entitled to benefits as the child of the wage earner. The claims folder is returned herewith. 1/ In a statement accompanying her application for benefits On behalf of the claimant, Candace J~ asserted that the wage earner never lived with the child but did on two occasions contribute small sums of money (totaling $50.00) for shoes and medicine for the child. She also stated that the wage earner acknowledged paternity to three friends and his sister. Two of these friends. subsequently stated that the wage earner denied being the claimant's father. A third friend, Tom C~ , indicated to SSA personnel by telephone that he "thought" the wage earner was the claimant's father because the wage earner was dating Candace J~, and indicated he would make a formal statement after consulting with her. However, C~ never made a formal statement. As for the wage earner's sister, Candace J~ stated that Tom C~ could supply her address and telephone number. However, C~ never supplied this information.

2/ In a recent opinion involving an Illinois court-approved settlement, we concluded that the settlement satisfied Section 216(h)(3)(C)(i)(III) because the court had approved the settlement after considering the evidence of paternity, including testimony and blood tests. L~, William, ~, RA:V (M~) to Director, GLPSC, 8/24/83. The statute in that case required the court to consider the "probable evidence" of paternity in reviewing and approving a settlement. We distinguished B~ by noting that in the latter case there was no indication that the Illinois trial court had taken any testimony or other evidence and thereby considered the "probable evidence" in approving the settlement. We also noted in L~ that parties may settle a paternity action prior to judgment for a variety of reasons, e.g., desire of the putative father to avoid a final determination (with potentially greater financial obligation) or publicity, or the immediate need of the mother and child.

Here, there is no indication that the Michigan trial court took any evidence or considered the probable paternity of the wage earner in approving the settlement. As we have discussed, the governing statute does not require consideration of the probable evidence of paternity. The small amount of the settlement - $2,500 - supports the conclusion that the settlement was based solely on the parties' desires to end the litigation.