Family Responsibilty Under the American Poor Laws: II

No substantive statutory provision fulfills the purpose for which it was enacted unless fair and efficient procedures are provided for its enforcement. Under the Elizabethan family responsibility law, enforcement was confined to the parish justices of the peace, who at that time exercised both administrative and judicial functions. The blending of administrative and judicial functions no longer being the rule in American local government, practically all of the American family responsibility statutes provide for some judicial procedure by which the support duty may be enforced. The basic issue with which the courts have been concerned in applying these statutory remedies may be pointed up by first considering those few American laws which state the support duty but provide no remedy. Under such a statute the California Supreme Court, in Paxton v. Paxton, held that the statement of the duty implies a remedy and, on this basis, allowed a dependent person to bring an action in equity for future support against a responsible relative. The South Dakota court, while first holding that a similar statute authorized only an action by the county for assistance already given, later, in Mower v. Mower, allowed a dependent person to enforce the support duty by securing an order for future support in a divorce action.