Louisiana Supreme Court: An Initial Child Support Claim Cannot Be Brought After Father’s Death

In Kendrick v. Estate of Michael Barre, a March 25, 2022 opinion from the Louisiana Supreme Court, the Court addressed whether an initial child support claim can be brought after a father’s death.  The answer: no.

The Facts of Kendrick v. Estate of Michael Barre

Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of her minor son, sued the estate of Anthony Michael Barre, seeking filiation (explained below) and child support.  Plaintiff alleged that Anthony is the father of her son and, prior to his death, she and Anthony were not married but had a close, intimate relationship that was widely known to the public.  Barre was a local rapper known as “Messy Maya.”

Plaintiff alleges that Anthony knew of the pending birth of his child, was excited about welcoming a son, was present for the ultrasound, chose the child’s name prior to his death, and “openly acknowledge[d]” the child. The same day he attended their son’s baby shower, Anthony was shot and killed. The child was born one month later.

The Louisiana trial court ruled in favor of the estate, finding that Plaintiff had no cause and right of action.  The Court of appeal reversed, and the case went before the Louisiana Supreme Court to decide whether an initial child support claim can be brought after a father’s death.

What Does Filiation Mean?

Filiation means the fact of being or of being designated the child of a particular parent or parents.  Read Who Are Next of Kin In Louisiana?

How Do You Establish Filiation In Louisiana?

Louisiana recognizes three ways to establish filiation:

  1. the presumption of paternity due to a marriage to the mother (La. Civ. Code arts. 185)
  2. the presumption of paternity due to a formal acknowledgment by the father (La. Civ. Code art. 196), or
  3. paternity proven through a legal proceeding instituted by the child (La. Civ. Code art. 197).

When Does a Child Support Obligation Begin In Louisiana?

Once filiation of a child to the father is established, the father’s child support obligation can be pursued pursuant to Louisiana law. Louisiana Revised Statutes 9:405 states:

In child support, custody, and visitation cases, the acknowledgment of paternity by authentic act is deemed to be a legal finding of paternity and is sufficient to establish an obligation to support the child and to establish visitation without the necessity of obtaining a judgment of paternity.

Generally, child support is an ongoing obligation of a living parent to a minor child. La. R.S. 9:315(A).

Louisiana  Revised  Statutes  9:315.21  states “except for good cause shown,” a child support award “shall be retroactive to the date of judicial demand” and “in no case prior to the date of judicial demand.”

So,  not  only  is  child  support conditioned  upon  legally  establishing  the  paternal relationship, no amount is owed or accrues before suit is filed to collect it, that is, until  judicial  demand.    In  summary,  a  child  support  obligation  is  exigible,  at  the  earliest, (i) when the father-child relationship is legally established and (ii) from the day suit is filed to collect it.

Does a Louisiana Cause of Action For Child Support Exist When a Petition Is First Filed After the Father’s Death?

No, because the child support obligation is strictly personal and ends on the death of the obligor.

Louisiana Civil Code article 1766 provides, in pertinent part, “An obligation is strictly personal when its performance can be enforced only by the obligee or only against the obligor.”  As summarized by the Louisiana Supreme Court:

The child support obligation of a parent is personal. See Louisiana Civil Code article 224 (“Parents are obligated to support. . . their child.”) (emphasis added). As stated in State in Int. of Minor Female Child, 470 So. 2d 595, 596 (La. Ct. App. 1985), “Parental rights are strictly personal and as such are not heritable. The care and custody of a minor child does not devolve as a matter of right to one who is not a parent.”

Strictly personal obligations abate on the death of the obligor. La. Code Civ. Proc. art. 428. The Louisiana Supreme Court determined:

Here, the putative father died before his alleged child was born. Because the child support obligation is strictly personal, it ended with Anthony’s death. And because no amount of child support is owed or accrues before it is sued upon, when Kendrick filed her claim for initial child support after Anthony’s death, the obligation had already expired. Consequently, she fails to state a claim for which there is a legal remedy.

The Louisiana Supreme Court recognized that Plaintiff may have other reasons to establish filiation between decedent and her son, and expressly limited its holding to her attempt to establish paternity for child support.