Not long ago I wrote a piece about the Texas Legislature's unanimous passage of a law allowing men to, at any time, challenge paternity of a child via genetic testing. If the child turns out not to be his, his child support obligation ceases. But any arrearages that exist at the time will still have to be paid.
At the time I wrote, Governor Rick Perry hadn't signed the legislation, but he subsequently did. It is now the law in the State of Texas that men can stop the wrong of paternity fraud even if they can't correct past wrongs.
That's a good thing, and I'd urge every man in Texas who's paying child support to get tested. If you're married, cohabiting or have a girlfriend and there's a child she says is yours and you have any reason to think otherwise, you should do a DNA test too. It's simple and fairly inexpensive (far less so than paying child support). All you have to do is go online and locate a DNA testing lab. Then follow their instructions.
That'll include sending them the fee and they'll send you a kit. You'll swab the inside of your cheek and that of the child in question, and send the samples back to the lab. In due course they'll send you the results telling you whether you're the dad or not.
If it turns out you're not, the test you just did will not be admissible in court. That's because the court can't know for sure if you did the test correctly (maybe you swabbed the cheek of your next door neighbor). But the court will order another test whose results will be admissible and, assuming the results are the same, will issue an order terminating your child support.
As I said, the new law is a step in the right direction. But it's got one gaping hole that this case
Back in 1986, Ray Thomas had a girlfriend and the girlfriend had a baby. She said it was his and he believed her. At some point they split up and he began paying child support, but soon became suspicious. The girl's hair turned red and his is dark.
Thomas didn't dally. He checked it out with a DNA lab and sure enough, the results came back - "Probability of Paternity - 0%."
Thomas said he went to court numerous times trying to clear things up, but said the judge wouldn't hear it...
"I don"t understand the judge can just give you a baby that ain"t yours and don"t try to try you, and I don"t understand it,' he said.
He said he doesn't understand how the state of Texas can still take part of every one of his paychecks.
That of course is exactly what the State of Texas is doing. Thomas owes $39,000 back child support, plus $13,000 interest for a child who's not his. He's known she isn't his, and so has the state for many years, but he still has to pay.
And let's remember; this "child" is now 25 years old. So the "support" he's paying has nothing to do with her. She's an adult and living on her own. The money is going to the mother only and benefiting the mother only - the same mother who lied to Thomas about being the father in the first place.
"Lied?" Perhaps she didn't know who the father was, so her statement to Thomas "You're the dad" wasn't a lie but a simple mistake, right? Wrong.
She knew the men with whom she'd had sex at or near the time of conception. She knew, but Thomas did not. Neither did the other man. Only she knew and that placed her in the moral position of telling each possible father that the child might be his.
Had she done so, they could have sorted out paternity at the time. Had she done so, the right man would have begun paying child support and had the opportunity to be a father to his child. But she didn't. Her refusal to do that was not a mistake; it was the intentional withholding of an important fact in order to achieve the result she wanted - to establish Thomas, and not the other man, as the father. In short, it was a lie of omission.
The new law is definitely a step in the right direction. It's a step toward simple fairness and honesty. But it is an incomplete one as Ray Thomas would be glad to tell you.
Until we establish as a rule of law that no man can have his parental rights established or diminished until he knows about a child who is in fact his, we'll continue to place fathers' parental rights and the obligations that go with them in the hands of mothers.
We can't force mothers to tell the truth. We can't force them to tell the correct man "this is your child." Indeed, we can't force them to tell a man about his child at all. As with most people, most mothers tell the truth, but a few don't and, as laws now stand, that can wreak havoc with men's and children's lives.
But what we can do is make legally certain that no father's rights can be diminished (e.g. through adoption of his child) because he doesn't know about it or doesn't know it's his.
Likewise, we can ensure that no man is stuck with parental obligations for a child who isn't his. After all, for every one of those there's a father who loses his parental rights and his relationship with his child, all because he doesn't know the child is his. He doesn't know because the mother didn't tell or told him something that's not true.
That's what equal parental rights would look like. Important as the new Texas law is, we're still a long way from that.
Thanks to John for the heads-up.