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Commissioner of Social Services v. Zarnetski

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 22, 2017

COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SERVICES ET AL.
v.
TRAVIS ZARNETSKI

          Argued April 26, 2017

         Procedural History

         Petition for financial and medical support and maintenance, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Litchfield and referred to the family support magistrate, Jed N. Schulman; order of dismissal; thereafter, the named plaintiff filed a petition to appeal to the trial court, Hon. Elizabeth A. Gallagher, judge trial referee; judgment dismissing the petition and affirming the decision of the family support magistrate; subsequently, the court denied the named plaintiff's motion to reargue, and the named plaintiff appealed to this court; thereafter, the court denied the named plaintiff's motion for an articulation. Reversed; judgment directed.

          Steven L. Samalot, assistant attorney general, with whom were Sean Kehoe, assistant attorney general, and, on the brief, George Jepsen, attorney general, and Rochelle Homelson, assistant attorney general, for the appellant (named plaintiff).

          Lavine, Mullins and Mihalakos, Js.

         Syllabus

         The plaintiff Commissioner of Social Services appealed to the trial court from the decision of a family support magistrate dismissing the plaintiff's petition for child support, which was filed on behalf of the minor child's mother, B. In the petition, the plaintiff alleged that child support services were being provided to the minor child and that the defendant, Z, was the child's acknowledged father. The magistrate dismissed the support petition for failure to provide a copy of the acknowledgment of paternity signed by Z, which was executed at a hospital in Massachusetts where the child was born. Neither B nor Z contested the issue of paternity, and the plaintiff presented evidence of paternity through a Massachusetts birth certificate and the testimony of both B and Z, but was unable to produce a copy of the acknowledgment of paternity. The trial court rendered judgment affirming the magistrate's decision dismissing the support petition, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Held that the trial court improperly affirmed the magistrate's order dismissing the support petition: the plaintiff was not required, pursuant to the relevant statutory (§§ 46b-172 and 46b-215) provisions, to produce the Massachusetts acknowledgement of paternity in order to allow the magistrate to proceed on the support petition, as the procedure for a hearing on a support petition merely requires that the acknowledged father be served with a summons, which does not need to be accompanied by a copy of the acknowledgment, it is not necessary for the acknowledgment to be filed for it to be valid, and an out-of-state acknowledgment is given the same full faith and credit as one executed in Connecticut, and, therefore, the trial court acted in contravention of the plain and unambiguous language of §§ 46b-172 and 46b-215 when it found that the magistrate properly dismissed the support petition for the failure to provide a copy of the Massachusetts acknowledgment; moreover, for the magistrate and the trial court to require the petitioner to submit an acknowledgment of paternity when paternity was not at issue was in contravention of the public policy of ensuring that a minor child receive the support to which he or she is entitled without unnecessary difficulty, as Z did not deny his relation to the child and provided testimony that he was the child's father and that he had signed the acknowledgment, the child's birth certificate supported Z's testimony by listing him as the father, and B further corroborated that Z was the father of the child, all of which was sufficient for the magistrate to proceed on the support petition and to enter an order for child support.

          OPINION

          MIHALAKOS, J.

         The plaintiff, the Commissioner of Social Services, appeals from the judgment rendered by the trial court affirming the order of the Family Support Magistrate (magistrate) dismissing the plaintiff's support petition for failure to provide a copy of the acknowledgment of paternity. The plaintiff claims that the trial court erred in affirming the order of the magistrate because the plaintiff was not required to provide a copy of the acknowledgment of paternity for the magistrate to proceed on the support petition. We agree with the plaintiff and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The record discloses the following relevant facts and procedural history. On November 21, 2014, the plaintiff, [1]acting on behalf of Christine Bassett[2] and pursuant to General Statutes §§ 46b-215, [3] 17b-745, [4] and/or 46b-172, [5] initiated an action for child support by filing a support petition with the Family Support Magistrate Division. Attached to the petition was a verified statement of facts that alleged, inter alia, that the plaintiff was providing child support services to a minor child and that the defendant, Travis Zarnetski, was the acknowledged father of the child.[6] In support of the allegation that the defendant was the acknowledged father, the plaintiff appended to its petition a copy of the child's Massachusetts birth certificate, which listed Bassett as the mother and the defendant as the father.

         On January 12, 2015, the case proceeded before the magistrate. The defendant appeared and testified that, at the time of the child's birth, he admitted that he was the father by signing an acknowledgment of paternity. This occurred at a hospital in Massachusetts, where the child was born. The defendant also testified that he placed his name on the child's birth certificate.

         The magistrate determined that it needed a copy of the Massachusetts acknowledgment, which neither the plaintiff nor the defendant had. Accordingly, the magistrate directed the plaintiff to obtain a copy of the Massachusetts acknowledgment and stated that failure to do so may result in the dismissal of the support petition.

         On April 13, 2015, the plaintiff appeared again before the magistrate. The plaintiff informed the magistrate that the Department of Social Services (department) was unable to obtain a copy of the Massachusetts acknowledgment. An employee of the department testified that she had attempted to obtain a copy, but that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts required a $40 fee, and the department would not pay the fee. The department contacted local child support offices in Massachusetts and inquired whether they had a copy of the acknowledgment on file, but none of the offices had such a copy. Bassett, however, testified that the defendant had signed the acknowledgment of paternity in her presence and that he never rescinded the acknowledgment.

         The plaintiff requested that the magistrate proceed on the support petition despite the plaintiff's inability to provide a copy of the acknowledgment because neither Bassett nor the defendant were contesting the issue of paternity, and the plaintiff had presented evidence of paternity through the Massachusetts birth certificate and the testimony of both the defendant and Bassett. The magistrate, however, determined that ...


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