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In 2008, the court told Becky Bowman that to win her child support case, she would have to go to California.

Bowman had asked for an increase in child support from her ex-husband after their daughter, Kaitlin, was diagnosed with a terminal and degenerative neurological condition.

The court said the law was specific: Bowman would have to file her petition in California, where her former husband was living.

With her child ailing, Bowman could not fight her case in California. Nor could she afford to appeal the decision to a higher court in the state, which could cost upwards of $10,000.

But she wasn't giving up.

Three years later, her persistence paid off - and her case has changed state law.


When Becky Bowman separated from her husband in 2007, she relocated from the state of Washington to Saratoga County with her daughter, Kaitlin. The girl's father relocated to California and was ordered to pay $479 per month in child support.

The amount, which is based on gross pay, should have been higher, Bowman said.

"We needed to increase the child support her father was giving," said Bowman, who petitioned the court after Kaitlin was diagnosed with a form of Batten Disease.

"She has a degenerative, fatal, neurological disease. It only affects children and at 2 to 4 is when it starts," Bowman said of the illness. "Some kids have a life expectancy of 8 to 12 years old. It's kind of like childhood ALS, I believe. It strips everything in the body."

After that diagnosis, she appealed to Saratoga Family Court, before her petition was dismissed.

Bowman said she wasn't seeking an excessive amount of child support, but rather a standard payment amount based on gross wage.

"I tried to do it on my own in 2008, and failed miserably," said Bowman, her 5-year-old daughter seated on her lap and cackling during a glee-filled moment provided by her favorite Dora book.

The court told her she had to bring the petition to California where Kaitlin's father lived, since both parents relocated from the state of Washington, which issued the original order.

In the meantime, Kaitlin was struggling.


Kaitlin, who will celebrate her sixth birthday in early August, has her good days and her bad days, said her mom, who has documented the girl's condition in a blog titled "Kaitlin's Journey."

"Jan. 4: Today was a good day. We went down to Albany Med for a check up with K's doctor ... We did some more blood work. K does really well with this, she is my little princess, she whines a little when they take her blood, but right after, before we get out of the chair, she says: ‘Thank you!'

"Jan. 17: Kaitlin had a bad day yesterday with seizures. Two big ones, one with myself and her Auntie and the other in the ambulance when we were on the way to the ER. Poor girl. After a long day we came home and had a quiet night. Visiting the doctor tomorrow to check her out and see if any changes need to be made."

Kaitlin sees a neurologist every three weeks, in addition to a variety of other doctors and specialists.

Her immune system is weakened by the disease, leaving her more open to illness.

After having difficulty swallowing, and seeing her weight drop to nearly 30 pounds, a gastrostomy feeding tube was inserted into her stomach, which helps Kaitlin to ingest the liquids, solids and medications she needs.

"It's financially burdensome to have a disabled child and not have the resources," said Bowman, adding that insurance only pays some of the medical expenses.

Last year, she found couldn't keep up with both her job and with caring for Kaitlin. The job had to go.


Bowman approached Saratoga Springs-based attorney Julie Frances to plead her case. When Frances informed Bowman that family court law was not her specific area of practice, Bowman was not dissuaded.

"She just kept coming back," Frances said. "She wouldn't quit."

While conducting research for the case, Frances came up against roadblocks in New York law.

As Saratoga Family Court had told Bowman, because both parents left Washington, Bowman's attempt to increase child support payments would have to be taken to the state where the girl's father lived, despite the fact that the child lived in Corinth.

"It's absolutely absurd for the court to expect Becky to travel across the country to litigate this," Frances said.

In her research, Frances discovered a case in Massachusetts as well as a federal law that she hoped could be presented that would trump the law in New York.

"The federal statute strives to make it easier for the custodial parent because they are already facing a higher burden financially and otherwise by being the caretaker for the child," Frances said.

There was also the issue of cost. Bowman did not have the financial resources to pursue the action.

"It takes about $10,000 minimally for an appeal of this degree and that's the reason why I believe a lot of people in Becky's situation - when they are turned down at the lower court level - they don't have the money to go forward, because it is so expensive to appeal," Frances said.

Coincidentally, a new pro bono civil appeals program was initiated through the New York state Bar Association to provide legal representation in state appellate courts for litigants of modest income.

The pilot program was instituted in 28 counties in the state, Saratoga among them.

Bowman's case was reviewed by committee and chosen for counsel.


Attorney Cynthia Feathers, an appellate attorney and an adjunct professor at Albany Law School, argued the case before a mid-level appeals court in Albany.

The court reversed the ruling of the Family Court to allow the child support modification petition to be brought in New York.

As a result, Bowman receives approximately three times the amount monthly previously received, which Frances said is the standard amount of 17 percent of gross wages, minus FICA.

And on Friday, a court order was entered that concluded Bowman was also due retroactive child support payments at the higher amount, dating back to August 2009.

"It helps out with expenses," Bowman said.

Bowman's victory goes far beyond her and Kaitlin.

The decision by the appeals court in Albany has changed state law regarding child support.

No longer will single parents in New York be forced to go to different states to file child support cases, Frances said.

"Now, anybody in Becky Bowman's situation, as a single parent, regardless of the health of the child, will be able to seek and perhaps obtain an increase in child support in the state where the child and the single parent live," she said.

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