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Hall v. Centolanza

Decided: November 30, 1953.

GLORIA HALL, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
RALPH CENTOLANZA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Eastwood, Jayne and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.A.D.

Francis

[28 NJSuper Page 393] In a proceeding brought in the Middlesex County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, respondent claimed that appellant Centolanza was the father of her illegitimate child and sought support for him. A jury trial was held on the issue of paternity and a verdict was returned adjudging appellant to be the father. Thereafter an order was entered requiring him to pay $8 weekly for the support of the child. The bond on the order of filiation indicates that the payments were to be made to the mother through the court. Centolanza appeals, asserting (1) the trial court had no jurisdiction since the proceeding was brought by the mother and not by the overseer of the poor or a duly authorized representative of the State Board of Child Welfare, as required by R.S. 9:17-2, and (2) because

the trial court committed error in permitting the mother to testify as to the resemblance between the child and the putative father.

The jurisdictional problem is not without difficulty. However, in our judgment it must be resolved adversely to appellant.

The common law imposed no obligation on a father to support his illegitimate child and no such obligation would exist today were it not for R.S. 9:17-1 et seq. , and R.S. 9:16-1 et seq. Borawick v. Barba , 7 N.J. 393 (1951).

Under R.S. 9:17-2, if it appears to the appropriate overseer of the poor, or to a duly authorized representative of the State Board of Child Welfare, that an illegitimate child is or is likely to become a public charge, he may institute proceedings to determine the paternity of the alleged father and to require him to support the child. This legislation has a long history dating back to 1795. (Borawick v. Barba, supra.)

Prior to 1929 no one but the overseer of the poor was empowered to bring the proceeding and the decision as to whether it should be brought, rested entirely in his discretion. Borawick v. Barba, supra; Kaufman v. Smathers , 111 N.J.L. 52, 56 (E. & A. 1933); Finhandler v. Watts , 7 N.J. Misc. 889 (Juv. Ct. 1929), cert. dismissed 9 N.J. Misc. 1328 (Sup. Ct. 1931); Donnelly v. Passaic Co. Court of Quarter Sessions , 6 N.J. Misc. 247 (Sup. Ct. 1927); Anonymous , 3 N.J.L. 435 (*870) (Sup. Ct. 1811). In the Kaufman case, the mother instituted the proceedings in her name and the Court of Errors and Appeals set aside a weekly support order which followed the finding of paternity. The court said:

"We have been unable to find any procedure which may be brought by the woman in a civil action against the father of her bastard child which would enable any court or magistrate to make an order requiring the father to pay a weekly sum to the county probation officer. The county probation officer would not be required to use this fund for the support of such child unless such child became a county charge. The entire theory of the act is that the municipalities of the county shall be protected against

the cost of maintaining the bastard child and for this reason the suit must be brought by the overseer of the poor who has charge of the maintenance of persons who become charges upon the municipality. The act is for the protection of taxpayers and people of the municipality and not for the benefit of the mother as it may become the duty of the municipality to care for the mother during her confinement and to care for and maintain the child if the mother and father fail to provide for and maintain it. It, therefore, seems to us that the court could not obtain jurisdiction of this case unless the action was brought by the overseer of the poor by whom the statute requires the action shall be brought. * * *"

The first impression of this ruling is that it is dispositive of the present case. However, the action was not brought under chapter 153 of the Laws of 1929, which is now the substance of R.S. 9:16-2 and 3, and which forms the basis of our judgment. Further, this act does not appear to have been called to the attention of the court at all nor to have been considered. The inquiry dealt solely with the act entitled "An act for the maintenance of bastard children" (Revision of 1898), cited as 1 Comp. Stat. 1910, p. 184, which is now R.S. 9:17-1 et seq.

It is apparent from the foregoing citations that support could be obtained from the father only when the illegitimate child became or seemed likely to become a public charge, and the action to enforce the statutory liability had to be brought by the overseer of the poor (or later by the director of welfare where such officer existed. See R.S. 9:17-1.1). Thus if the mother was supporting such a child, the law provided no means whereby she could have paternity established or secure all or partial maintenance for it from the father. There being no justification in an enlightened society for the perpetuation of such harsh treatment of ...


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