This is a proceeding brought under the Uniform Support of Dependents Law by the mother of two out-of-wedlock children, all residing in Florida, for their support by their New York putative father. The issue is whether an adjudication of respondent's paternity in a prior proceeding between these parties, and his acknowledgment therein of paternity, are binding and sufficient basis for an order of support, in the face of his contentions that he was then unrepresented by counsel and that the adjudicating court lacked jurisdiction.
The Uniform Support of Dependents Law, hereinafter termed USDL (article 3-A of the New York Domestic Relations Law), provides for a dependent in one State to there petition that a reciprocating State enforce a duty of support against a respondent domiciled, residing, or found in the latter, testimony being taken from each party ex parte in the respective States. Besides support for spouses and legitimate children, the USDL provides: "The natural parents of a child born out of wedlock shall be severally liable for the support of such child, but the liability of the natural father shall not be enforceable unless he has been adjudicated to be the child's father by a court of competent jurisdiction, or he has acknowledged or shall acknowledge paternity of the child in open court or by a verified written statement." (Domestic Relations Law, § 33, subd. 5.)
Mr. Loru, the respondent, denies the mother's claim, in her present petition filed in Florida, that he is the father of her children. However, in a USDL proceeding between these parties in 1962, when petitioner resided and filed a petition in Arizona, the Children's Court of Nassau County held respondent liable for the support of these children, on the basis of his oral acknowledgment of paternity in that court.
Adjudication of Paternity by Court of Competent Jurisdiction ?
The respondent contends on several grounds that the Children's Court was not "a court of competent jurisdiction" within the meaning of the above USDL provision on out-of-wedlock children, and that its adjudication therefore does not establish respondent's present liability for support.
1. Respondent's Residence
The argument that respondent was, at the time of the 1962 hearing in Nassau County, then residing in Bronx County, having moved there from Nassau three days before, does not warrant extended discussion. Respondent had been personally served 13 days before the hearing in Nassau County, where he was then residing and domiciled;*fn1 and it is clear that the court's jurisdiction thus acquired over him was not terminated by his departure from the county.*fn2 Further, although respondent was not represented by an attorney, his appearance without raising the issue of his change of residence to another county in New York State, waived any possible objection on this ground, for it does not relate to any basic right or element of the cause of action. (Cf. Silbert v. Silbert, 25 A.D.2d 570 [2d Dept., 1966]; see, also, Lambert v. Lambert, 270 N. Y. 422, 427-428 .)
2. Time Limitation in Paternity Actions
The next question relating to the 1962 proceedings is whether the court lacked jurisdiction as to the older child, born in 1958, because of a time limitation on paternity actions. The USDL contains no limitation provisions. However, in 1962, as at present, New York's limitation was: "Proceedings to establish the paternity of the child * * * shall not be brought after the lapse of more than two years from the birth of the child, unless paternity has been acknowledged by the father in writing or by furnishing support." (Family Ct. Act, § 517, eff. Sept. 1, 1962; see similar prior provision, L. 1925, ch. 255, Domestic Relations Law, § 122, subd. 2.)
In view of the legislative history,*fn3 this provision appears to establish elements of a petitioner's cause of action, rather than merely a defensive Statute of Limitations; a showing either that the child is under two years or has been acknowledged by support or in writing, would therefore be part of the affirmative case. (See Romano v. Romano, 19 N.Y.2d 444 ; Matter of "Mendes ", 11 Misc. 2d 546, 548 (Children's Ct., Westchester County, 1958].) Thus, if the New York provision applied to USDL proceedings, it might well be argued that the petitioner's failure to establish an element of the cause of action as to the older child -- that is, a past acknowledgment -- rendered the adjudication invalid, despite the uncounseled respondent's failure to raise this issue. However, this court holds that New York's time provision does not apply in USDL paternity cases.
At the outset, the difference in result under the USDL paternity section and the New York provision must be noted. The USDL permits the court to base an adjudication on respondent's acknowledgment of paternity in open court, regardless of the lapse of time since the child's birth; under the New York provision -- if given the construction that seems required (described above), -- the court cannot even entertain a paternity petition more than two years after the child's birth unless petitioner shows that there has been an acknowledgment. This restriction would be even more unfortunate for out-of-State petitioners than in-State (though the statute is badly in need of amendment for the latter as well). For the USDL omits the New York provision for proof of acknowledgment of an out-of-wedlock child by any "writing or by furnishing support", nor does it allow a determination of paternity on the basis of evidence as to sexual relations, etc., as is permissible in in-State proceedings. These differences between USDL and local proceedings are unavoidable; to elicit evidence on such issues on an ex parte basis, without confrontation and cross-examination, might well be both unwieldy and unfair. (See Smith v. Smith, 11 Ohio Misc. 25; M v. W , 352 Mass. 704.) The opportunity in USDL proceedings for an adjudication on the basis of an acknowledgment in open court, regardless of the age of the child, is at least some compensation for the other disadvantages suffered by out-of-State illegitimate children in securing support.
Since the USDL calls for a free and open acknowledgment, rather than any taking of evidence, the omission of a time limitation works no unfairness to respondents. Thus the USDL provision is well adapted to the exigencies of securing support for out-of-wedlock children from out-of-State fathers, and its efficacy must not be defeated by the injection of ...