At first, just leaving Queens to attend the University of Miami must have seemed glamorous. Add to that dating NBA all star Paul George, and for Daniela Rajic, it must have seemed other-worldly — at least until a pregnancy test came up positive. Upon returning home to her family in Queens where she gave birth, she commenced a paternity and child custody proceeding because she could not get Mr. George to step up to the plate (or basket, if you will)(Rajic v. George, Sup. Ct. NY, 350038-2014 NYLJ). Incredibly, paternity was never in doubt. Mr. George had already submitted to a private paternity test, which revealed he likelihood of paternity was 99.9%.
As often happens in cases where there is really no question that the respondent is actually the father, Paul George quickly denied paternity and sought to dismiss the petition. Never mind that he started a paternity proceeding in Florida where he alleged that “upon information and belief” he is the father of the child. What is going on here? Nothing more, nor less, than a very expensive legal shopping trip. Of course, having top shelf attorneys as his personal shopping consultants is bound to make any legal shopping spree expensive. But far more expensive is the New York support order to which a New York paternity order would lead. Two points were surely not lost on Mr. George (given the expertise of his shopping consultants): First, a New York support order will run until the child is 21, the legal age of emancipation in New York, compared to the age of 18 in Florida. Second, in many Florida courts, there is a working assumption that some form of shared custody is best for the child, and once that is established, there is a reduction of child support down from the prescribed child support calculation. In other words, getting the case out of New York and into the Florida courts is worth big bucks.
The New York Court partially granted Mr. George’s application to dismiss the petition, dismissing the paternity claim, but upheld Ms. Rajic’s custody claim. The Court’s reasoning, at least as far as the paternity claim is concerned, certainly makes more sense than the legal maneuvering that led to it. Because Mr. George had virtually no contact with New York State, the petitioner had no business demanding that he submit to the New York court’s jurisdiction. Lacking personal jurisdiction (really another word for power to act), the New York court can do nothing to determine paternity. For there to be personal jurisdiction over Mr. George in a New York paternity proceeding, he would have had to live here with the child or lived here and provided support to the child here, or have directed that the child live here, or had sexual relations with the petitioner here at a time likely to have resulted in conception. Since none of those things were true, the paternity case was dismissed. But before Mr. George celebrates a (partially) successful shopping trip, he should keep in mind that the Florida law on personal jurisdiction is the same as New York’s law since the statute is a uniform act (the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act) and that none of the potential forms of contact with Florida appear to apply to Ms. Rajic (the closest she comes is sexual intercourse in Florida, but according to the New York court’s findings, it was after the possible conception of the child). Of course, Ms. Rajic will have to bring a paternity proceeding somewhere, and that state could either be Mr. George’s state of residence or California where, it appears, the parties engaged in sexual relations that actually led to conception. But California’s age of emancipation, like most states, is 18. It looks like Mr. George’s forum shopping may be successful after all.