In DCFS v. Lowrie, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that a legal (presumed) father is entitled to join an alleged biological father in an action for enforcement of child support. The significance of this case lies not in its narrow holding, but in what it foreshadows about the fate of Louisiana’s anachronistic system of “dual paternity.”
Today in family law, biology is king. The legal parent-child relationship exists solely by virtue of a biological connection, and child support is owed solely on the basis of that connection. In such an era, it seems odd that Louisiana continues to recognize dual paternity: to recognize a legal parent-child relationship between both a child and his biological father, and between the child and a man who was presumed the father of the child and did not disavow within the narrow timeframes set out under Louisiana law. In every other state, the legal father is released – from both the duties and rights associated with parenthood – when biological paternity is proven in another man.
Lowrie highlights one of the most significant continuing problems with the dual paternity scheme: it is lauded as good for children. This comes, however, at the price of extreme inequity for others, most notably the legal father. When a biological father is known and is capable of paying support, can the child’s interest in having more money justify holding two men responsible? Judges in Louisiana report that when a biological father is before them, they frequently ignore the doctrine of dual paternity and order the biological father alone to pay support, because, of course, that result is most equitable.
But in the most egregious Louisiana cases, the child’s mother knows the identity of the biological father and refuses to name him, choosing instead to pursue only the legal father for support. The internal policies the Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) described openly in the Lowrie proceedings permitted and encouraged exactly that.
In the wake of the Lowrie decision, however, neither DCFS nor biological mothers may be complacent when it comes to naming a biological father. The decision imposes upon DCFS a duty to investigate allegations in a mother’s request for enforcement services – which may even require DCFS to now make diligent efforts to find a biological father for every application it accepts for enforcement services. That obligation is one that DCFS seems ill-funded and ill-equipped to bear, but it is a duty that must exist to prevent inequity, as long as dual paternity exists.
The most substantial question Lowrie asks is not whether equity requires the joinder of the biological father when support is sought from a legal father, but whether it’s time for Louisiana to abandon a troubled and odd institution in the interest of equity. Has dual paternity simply outlived its utility?
Frank P. Tranchina, Jr. of Tranchina & Mansfield, LLC focuses his practice on family law in Covington, Louisiana. All partners and associates of his law firm are encouraged to progress their professional development through continuing legal education seminars, professional association activities, and civic affairs. Frank frequently lectures and writes on various family law topics. www.tranchinaandmansfield.com
Christine Remy, founder of Remy Law Firm in Metairie, Mandeville, and Gretna Louisiana argued this case to the Louisiana Supreme Court on behalf of the defendant, Thomas Lowrie. She has been practicing law for 24 years and approaches each case she handles with experience, passion, and meticulous preparation. www.remylawfirm.com.