Committee scales down pregnancy child support proposal

By: - February 9, 2023 6:30 am

Rep. Elizabeth Rowray, R-Yorktown, in the House Chamber on January 25, 2023. Her legislation allowing expectant mothers to claim child support beginning at conception was scaled back, to let courts order fathers to pay for a wider range of expenses. (Courtesy of Rowray Flickr)

House lawmakers on Wednesday approved a scaled-back version of a bill that originally would’ve let expectant mothers claim child support beginning at conception — in the wake of Indiana’s much-litigated abortion ban.

Instead, the House Judiciary Committee stripped the bill and replaced it with language allowing courts to make fathers pay for a wider range of expenses, amid fears the original language would open up a can of legal worms.

Indiana law already allows court orders to include half of costs for prenatal and postnatal care, delivery, and hospitalization. The amended House Bill 1009 would add two more options: “other necessary expenses” related to birth, and “postpartum” expenses.

“When we talk about [birth-related expenses], I want you to think about everything that’s needed from the day that you walk out of the hospital,” said Rep. Elizabeth Rowray, R-Yorktown. That could include a car seat, a crib, mattress, blanket, diapers, wipes, nursing supplies and more.

“You can’t wait for child support to kick in a month later,” she said.

Postpartum expenses, Rowray added, could mean medical issues that develop during pregnancy or birth, like those who lose their teeth because of hormonal changes.

“I think that adding [the provisions] in here is really necessary to make sure that the children that are being born have everything they need on the day” upon discharge from a hospital, she said.

Legal fears remain

Though the bill did away with a novel attempt to expand child support through the 40 weeks of pregnancy, some still saw potential legal trouble in the replacement language.

The term “other necessary expenses” could lead to “creative lawyering” or “over-lawyering,” said Andrew Soshnick, a family law attorney speaking on behalf of the Indiana State Bar Association’s Family & Juvenile Law Section.

He said it could also overlap with child support provisions currently on the books.

The term “postpartum,” could also engender legal fights about causation, Soshnick said: did pregnancy cause the medical issue, or would it have happened regardless — and should the father now pay for it?

And he said that the bill could be vulnerable to legal challenges over income, because the new provisions could encompass child support-like expenses, but the 50-50 divide doesn’t account for differences in income.

“Is this a deviation from the income-shares model … that the Indiana Supreme Court, in adopting this rule, could find inappropriate?” Soshnick asked. “Again, we don’t have the answers. We’re simply pointing out potential issues with respect to this legislation as drafted.”

But for others, the bill was still a way to boost support for Hoosier families.

“I know a lot of other people were really hopeful that it wouldn’t just end with things being anti-abortion, but that it would actually be pro-life, and that there would be bills that would help support mothers, babies and families, said Angela Espada, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference.

“We see this bill as doing that,” she concluded.

The committee approved the bill unanimously, 11-0. It now moves to the full House for any new amendments.


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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie joins the Indiana Capital Chronicle after covering city government and urban affairs for the Indianapolis Business Journal for more than a year. She graduated from Northwestern University in March 2021, and has reported for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and student publications in Evanston, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and Doha, Qatar.