Cases & Deals

Jones Day attorneys successfully represent U.S. Air Force servicemember wrongfully named in child support suit

Clients D. W.

D.W., a Senior Airman in the U.S. Air Force, received a summons from the New York Department of Social Services ("DSS") to appear at a child support hearing in New York County (Manhattan) Family Court. According to the summons, D.W.'s paternity of the child in question was established by a signed acknowledgement at or around the time of the child's birth, and D.W. had failed to make child support payments since that time. D.W., however, was not the child's father and in fact did not know the petitioning mother, had never been to and had no contacts in New York, and was stationed in Arizona at the time of the child's birth. D.W. tried unsuccessfully to resolve the matter with DSS, and sought assistance from his local Air Force JAG attorney. The JAG attorney referred the matter to the ABA Military Pro Bono Project, which distributes a list of pro bono opportunities to non-military attorneys throughout the country.

New York BATL Associate Pat Smith receives the ABA's prospective pro bono case list on a weekly basis. With guidance from Tracy Schaffer and Lauri Sawyer, Pat volunteered to assist D.W. in resolving his case. The matter was essentially one of mistaken identity, as D.W. possesses a very common name and was easily located as a servicemember. Relying on documents demonstrating D.W.'s identity as distinct from the alleged father's and D.W.'s service attendance records showing he was not in New York at the time of the child's birth, Pat negotiated an agreement with DSS to dismiss the case. With the consent and assistance of DSS and the Family Court, Pat arranged to represent D.W. in court while D.W. appeared by telephone from the courthouse nearest his base to answer questions from the court about his identification and attendance documents. This arrangement helped D.W. avoid the significant burden and expense of traveling to New York from his duty station in Arizona. The court was satisfied that D.W. was not the father of the child in issue, and dismissed the case with prejudice.

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