If an absentee parent dies, should the children be entitled to death benefits? That is the question for a Michigan court, and the answer is more complicated than you might think.

Jessica Douglas gave birth to a baby girl, but she was not married to the father of the child,  Scott Moore. At one point, she and the child moved in and lived for a while with Moore, but Douglas never married him. And eventually, she and the child moved out of the house and lived separate and apart from Moore.

Paternity was not certain, and so Moore filed to have a DNA test performed, which confirmed him as the father of the child. Once Douglas and their baby moved from the home, Moore no longer supported them financially, or any other way.

However, less than a month after receiving the paternity results, Moore was killed while on the job. Douglas then filed a petition on behalf of her daughter to receive death benefits from the company for whom Moore had worked.

This was a fairly straightforward request, and according to the Workers’ Disability Compensation Act, any child under the age of 16 – whether legitimate or illegitimate, whether living with the deceased employee or not – is considered to be wholly dependent for support. The court awarded Douglas 500 weeks of benefits at $252.33 per week.

However, within a few days, the company’s attorney filed an appeal stating that the child had to be living with the employee at the time of death in order to be eligible for the benefits.

Sadly, the Workers’ Compensation Appellate Committee reversed the court’s ruling calling the magistrate’s decision a “legal error”, and denying the death benefits for baby Jamie. The case remained in the appellate courts for another four years and finally came down to one question: Had Moore deserted Jamie?

It was finally ruled that Scott Moore did not desert his daughter, but in a legal irony, this very fact meant that Jamie would not be eligible for Moore’s death benefits. Had he deserted her, she would have received the full benefits.

What do you think? Is this one of our laws that should be reconsidered and perhaps changed?

If you have legal questions, please consult our Online Legal Directory to find an attorney in your area.


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