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State, Human Services Department v. Toney

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

May 2, 2019

HOWARD TONEY, JR., Respondent-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF SANDOVAL COUNTY Cheryl H. Johnston, District Judge.

          New Mexico Legal Aid, Inc. Kathryn Suzanne Almond Simon Tuck Bernalillo, NM Edna Frances Sprague Albuquerque, NM for Appellee Kanean Toledo.

          New Mexico Human Services Department Child Support Enforcement Division Sarah J. Batzli Larry Heyeck Kristin Sanderson Santa Fe, NM for Appellee Human Services Department.

          Titus and Murphy Law Firm Tyson K. Gobble Farmington, NM for Appellant.


          IVES, JUDGE.

         {¶1} The district court ordered Howard Toney (Father) to pay child support retroactive to the date of his separation from Kanean Toledo (Mother) pursuant to the New Mexico Uniform Parentage Act (NMUPA), NMSA 1978, §§ 40-11A-101 to -903 (2009).[1] Father argues that the NMUPA's retroactive child support provision, § 40-11-1-636(G), does not apply to him because he acknowledged paternity before Mother and the Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED) petitioned for child support. We disagree and affirm.


         {¶2} In 2005, when she was fifteen years old, Mother gave birth to a daughter. Mother and Father were not married when their daughter was born, and Father executed an acknowledgement of paternity. The couple lived together off and on and then separated in 2006. Father only paid Mother child support in 2011 and 2012.

         {¶3} Mother assigned her right to child support to the State because it had provided assistance to the child. See generally NMSA 1978, § 27-2-28 (2009). In August of 2016, CSED filed a petition on behalf of Mother, and the State seeking child and medical support from Father.

{¶4} By stipulated order, the district court directed Father to make monthly payments to Mother for ongoing child and medical support. After considering the parties' legal arguments and testimony, a child support hearing officer concluded that the NMUPA applied and recommended that the district court order Father to pay child support retroactive to his separation from Mother in 2006.

         {¶5} Father objected to this recommendation, arguing that Section 40-11A-63 6(G) did not apply because he had previously acknowledged paternity. Father asserted that he was therefore not responsible for any child support from the time of his daughter's birth in 2005 through the filing of the petition in August 2016.

         {¶6} The district court overruled the objection and adopted the hearing officer's recommendation, concluding that the NMUPA applied and authorized an order of support retroactive to the date of the couple's separation. Father appeals.


         Standard of Review

         {¶7} "We review the setting of child support orders for abuse of discretion." Zabolzadeh v. Zabolzadeh, 2009-NMCA-046, ¶ 4, 146 N.M. 125, 207 P.3d 359. It is an abuse of discretion for a district court to base a discretionary decision on or apply an incorrect standard or incorrect substantive law. Id. Father challenges the district court's interpretation of the NMUPA, an issue of statutory construction we review de novo. Moongate Water Co. v. City of Las Cruces, 2013-NMSC-018, ¶ 6, 302 P.3d 405.

         The NMUPA

{¶8} To "ascertain the legislative intent" behind the NMUPA, we "begin with [its] plain language." N.M. Indus. Energy Consumers v. Pub. Regulation Comm'n, 2007-NMSC-053, ¶2l, 142 N.M. 533, 168 P.3d 105. "Because we consider statutes in the context of the broader act in which they are situated, we read them in conjunction with statutes addressing the same subject matter, ensuring a harmonious, common-sense reading." Chatterjee v. King, 2012-NMSC-019, ¶ 12, 280 P.3d 283. Our interpretations must "facilitate [the statute's] operation and the achievement of [its] goals." Padilla v. Montano, 1993-NMCA-127, ¶ 23, 116 N.M. 398, 862 P.2d 1257. We "consider the practical implications" of potential interpretations, Bishop v. Evangelical Good Samaritan Soc'y, 2009-NMSC-03 6, ¶ 11, 146 N.M. 473, 212 P.3d 361, rejecting those that "defeat [the statute's] intended purpose[, ]" Padilla, 1993-NMCA-127, ¶ 23.

         {¶9} The NMUPA governs the "determination of parentage[, ]" § 40-11 A-103(A), which is "the establishment of the parent-child relationship[, ]" § 40-11 A-102(H), "the legal relationship" between a parent and child, § 40-11 A-102(N). The NMUPA provides two legal mechanisms for determining parentage: (1) "the signing of a valid acknowledgment of paternity" and (2) "adjudication by the court[.]" Section 40-11A-102(H).

         {¶10} In contrast to an adjudication of parentage, which involves a judicial proceeding generally governed by our rules of civil procedure, § 40-11A-601, the execution of an acknowledgment of paternity under the NMUPA is a relatively simple, inexpensive, [2] and informal process. To execute an acknowledgment, "[t]he mother of a child and a man claiming to be the genetic father [must] sign an acknowledgment of paternity with intent to establish the man's paternity." Section 40-11A-301. Their signatures must be under penalty of perjury and on a form provided by the Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics. Section 40-11A-302(A)(l)-(2); see also ยง 40-11 A-102(E). The acknowledgment must contain various statements indicating that the acknowledging signatory is indeed the child's father and notifying the signatories of the legal effects ...

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