Serpico and His Duty to Pay Child Support

Frank Serpico was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1936.  In 1959, after a stint in the army and graduating from college, he joined the New York City Police Department.

Serpico was an honest cop, and tried hard to get the department to get rid of bad cops for their criminal behavior, but no one would listen.  Finally, he spoke to a reporter for the New York Times and his ordeal made front page news.  The mayor of the city ordered an investigation of the Serpico’s accusations (known as the Knapp Commission).  The commissioners found numerous instances of corruption and numerous people were fired.  Many were charged and convicted of crimes.

Because he “ratted out” his fellow police officers, he was ostracized.  In 1971, as a plainclothes detective, he and three other detectives went to an apartment when they got a “tip” that the people inside were dealing drugs.  Serpico was able to get inside the building and thought his fellow officers were right behind him.  They were not.  The suspect shot Serpico in the face, and none of the officers came to help him.  A neighbor heard the shot, called 911, and he was taken to a hospital.  While recuperating in the hospital, he received a visit from the mayor.  He lost the hearing in his left ear, and has pain from bullet fragments that are still in his skull.  One month after the shooting, Serpico received the department’s Medal of honor, and he retired.

In 1972, Peter Maas wrote a book about Serpico, and in 1973, the book was made into the movie Serpico starring Al Pacino.  After the movie’s release Serpico moved to Europe to avoid all the attention.

In 1980, after returning to New York, a woman gave birth gave birth to Serpico’s only child.  She sued him for child support.  In court, Serpico argued that he should not have to pay child support because she tricked him.  He said she told him she was on birth control and could not get pregnant.  He also told the court she knew he did not want to have children.  (She argued that they never discussed pregnancy or birth control usage.)  Serpico’s basic argument was that both parties in a sexual encounter have the right to pro-create or not pro-create as they choose.  The judge agreed with Serpico, but still ordered him to pay $790 per month instead of the $1200 per month the mother asked for.

Serpico appealed believing he was “duped and entrapped” by the woman.  The Division Appellate Court dismissed his appeal in 1982, stating, ''Assuming the father’s allegations are true, how does it logically follow that the child should suffer?'' The court also increased his child support to $945 per month. He appealed to the New York State’s highest court. 

The Court of Appeals agreed with the divisional appellate court stating, ''The [New York State] statute does not require, nor, we believe, does it permit, consideration of the 'fault' or wrongful conduct of one of the parents in causing the child's conception.”  The court also affirmed $945 per month for child support, but also made the support retroactive from June of 1980.

Although this a New York case, had it occurred in California, Serpico would have to pay child support based on best interests of the child.  The parents’ conduct would not enter into the amount determined.

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