She was a junior at the University of California, Davis, bumming around Europe in the summer of 2009. He was a robotics engineer, almost 20 years her senior, but looked younger. Alessandra Lubinets, then 27, and Philippe, then 46, met on Aug. 13 at a crowded cafe the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. He left to catch his plane, but a French romance bloomed.
They corresponded. He sent her a necklace on their "anniversary" the next year; a watch on her birthday. She visited in November, they kissed at the Louvre, had a second date at the Eiffel Tower, and, after the holidays, skied the French Alps. After her senior year at UC Davis, she returned to live with him over the summer in Lyon. They said goodbye again as she returned to the States, but now life had changed dramatically, putting her at the forefront of an international child support treaty the U.S. only joined about a year ago.
Lubinets was pregnant. Their romantic relationship died, and Philippe didn't want her to have the baby. Their son, Henri, is now 5, and Lubinets, 36, is seeking child support from a man across the ocean, in another country, making her one of the first California test cases of the treaty to make a foreign dad help pay for his child.
Lubinets, now a Sacramento County employee, opened her child support case in April 2013, and said she just wants what’s fair. “He’s the one who went after me," she said. "I’m not the one who said 'I’ll buy you a ticket.' I was very guarded, I don’t like being obligated to anybody.” Philippe, whose last name we're not using because it is the same as their son, whose identity Lubinets wishes to protect, would not comment on the case.
The California Department of Child Support Services has taken Lubinets’ cause, invoking the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Family Maintenance. The treaty, which went into full force in the U.S. Jan. 1, 2017, now applies to 36 countries, establishing reciprocal relationships between the U.S. and other nations to collect from absent parents. Lubinets, like others who are not yet in the child support system and are involved in an international case, learned about California's Child Support Services agency and filed an application.
Disputes over child support payments are a giant issue nationwide, said Nicole Darracq, spokeswoman for the California Department of Child Support. “These are court orders out there where a court has decided that child support should be paid that is not being paid,” Darracq said.
As relationships falter and fail, as couples wrestle with emotionally charged matters, the most troubling can be: Who pays for the child?
As of April 2017, 5.5 million delinquent "noncustodial parents" owed $114 billion in past-due child support, according to the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement The previous fiscal year, state and tribal child support programs collected $33 billion to help support 15.6 million kids, according to the federal agency. In California alone, unpaid child support totals $17.4 billion, involving at least half of the nearly 2 million families. Nationwide, the Child Support Program collects money for nearly 16 million families with children – including one in five California children.
Child support represented, on average, 41 percent of the income for parents receiving child support payments in 2013, up from 29 percent in 1997.
But the degree of difficulty increases when the child support crosses international borders, as in Lubinets' case. Communication via email and text may all be simpler now, connections may be easier, but international jurisdictions still pose barriers for resolution. The treaty is intended to break down those barriers.
California initiates 18,000 new international cases a year – ones that go beyond the Hague agreement – and has open cases involving 68 countries.
Lubinets represents “a test case of the Hague agreement, and whether it will create meaningful change in the countries that wouldn’t pay before and so far the answer is yes,” Darracq said.
With the new agreement in place, California has received 18 requests as of August 2017 to enforce child support payments on someone in California, and initiated 20 new international cases.“ And everyone who joined the Hague agreement, including Ukraine, Spain and Romania, seems to be paying, Darracq said.
The treaty works both ways. Parents in a dozen countries, including France, have filed cases against delinquent spouses in California. In one case, a California dad who cannot travel has been given an attorney in Greece so he can pay the child’s mother, Darracq said.
“Cooperation has been excellent and all cases are moving forward,” she said.
Some nations had been reluctant to cooperate before the Hague agreement, including France, Darracq said.
France, and other foreign countries, would deny cases such as Lubinets' unless she hired a lawyer and went to court in person, Darracq said. “We would always enforce child support cases for them," Darracq said. "But before the Hague Convention treaty, we never got any support from France, they just ignored us.”
But thanks to the treaty, France was required to appoint a French lawyer at no cost to represent Lubinets. A stipulated agreement has not yet been reached, Darracq said, and they are waiting for a court date.
The French government said it is well aware of the treaty. "We agree with what Mrs. Darracq is saying but we have nothing more to add,” said Emmanuelle Lachaussee, press officer with the French Embassy in Washington.
Lubinets said Philippe has sent her some money voluntarily, and still does sporadically. She said her lawyer asked for 500 euros ($617) a month. She said he earns 9,000 euros a month ($11,099). Their relationship, while short and intense, was also complicated. She said he had a daughter and another girlfriend, and the relationship was unclear. Still, she could look at the emails he sent and conclude he was committed to her, she said.
The tone shifted when he found out she was pregnant. She said his emails asked to solve the problem.
“When I told him I would keep the baby, he said I was on my own," Lubinets said. "That’s how it all ended. We went back and forth for a bit with me wanting reassurance, and him saying he needs to think about it ... but none of that went anywhere.”
Their texts now center on child support, as any parent embroiled in a similar matter, here or in another country, would recognize. She said he asked if they could find an alternative solution to the formal procedure.
"I tried to do that with you and you accused me of blackmail instead," she texted in return. "I am willing to discuss an agreement, but I want it official and signed. ... Consider that I have been raising our child ALONE for almost six years. I provided him a home, I stayed up so many nights with a baby and when he was sick. I am there when he cries. I’m there when he wants a hug. I’m always there. Always. Alone. And all I ask from you is that you help financially. You already are free from the rest of the parenting responsibilities. All you have to do is pay. It’s not much to ask."
Lubinets does not regret her relationship. But, she said, "I've moved on." As for being a test case, Darracq says the effectiveness remains to be seen. “We always had cases with France," she said. "And could never get anywhere.”
For more information
California Department of Child Support Services: 1-866-901-3212, www.childsup.ca.gov