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State Board of Child Welfare v. P.G.F.

Decided: September 29, 1959.

STATE BOARD OF CHILD WELFARE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
P.G.F., DEFENDANT



Bellfatto, J.J.D.R.C.

Bellfatto

The question presented is whether under R.S. 44:1-140 a person may be compelled to support the illegitimate child of his illegitimate daughter. R.S. 44:1-140 is L. 1924, c. 132, sec. 74, which is "An Act for the settlement and relief of the poor," etc. The section in question provides that:

"The father, grandfather, mother, grandmother, children, grandchildren, and husband or wife, severally and respectively, of a poor, old, blind, lame or impotent person or other poor person or child

not able to work, shall, if of sufficient ability, at his or their charge and expense, relieve and maintain the poor person or child in such manner as the overseer of the poor shall order, or the court upon its own initiative or the information of any person, after notice to the person or persons chargeable and hearing the overseer, may so order.

The provisions of this section shall apply to the minor children of a mother whose husband shall fail properly to support and maintain such children when by reason thereof they are likely to become a public charge upon the municipality in which they have gained a legal settlement."

Section 1 of the act consists of a number of definitions of the words used in the act. However, the words "father, grandfather, mother, grandmother, children, grandchildren, * * * poor person or child" or any similar words used in sec. 74 as noted above have not been defined.

Unquestionably under the common law neither the "father" nor the so-called grandfather were under any obligation to support an illegitimate child, and there is no such obligation today except where the common law has been expressly changed by statute. See Borawick v. Barba , 7 N.J. 393 (1951); Hall v. Centolanza , 28 N.J. Super. 391, 394 (App. Div. 1953).

With respect to the position of the putative father, the common law has been clearly modified. N.J.S.A. 9:16-1 provides that the mother of an illegitimate child shall have the exclusive right to custody and control of the child, and that the putative father shall have no such rights. R.S. 9:16-2 provides that such a child shall be entitled to support and education from its father and mother to the same extent as if born in lawful wedlock. Thus, we see that without establishing a complete legal relation of father and child between the putative father and the child, the Legislature has expressly imposed upon the father the duty to support the child.

Does R.S. 44:1-140, quoted above, further abrogate the common law and impose upon a person the duty to support the illegitimate child of his illegitimate daughter? Does the use of the word "grandfather" in the act indicate

the creation of such new obligation, theretofore nonexisting? Clearly, R.S. 44:1-140 is a general act for the relief of the poor, and is not directed to the particular or specific problem of relations or duties as between illegitimate children and their ancestors. There is nothing in the act to indicate that the Legislature gave new meaning to the word "grandfather," or that it intended to alter previously recognized relations. Accepting and designating relations as they previously existed, the Legislature imposed certain duties on persons coming within those relations.

The State contends that taking the word "grandfather" as used in the act, in its common or accepted meaning, it would include the defendant. For such a conclusion, the State ...


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