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September 23rd, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
In Delaware, the month of September is Child Support Month.  As part of that event, the state’s Division of Child Support Enforcement is conducting paternity testing free of charge.  In what must be seen as typical bureaucratic incompetence, the press release about the free testing was issued on September 18th and the program ends on the 28th.  But in any event, any single man who wants to be tested, can do so free of charge.  So if you live in Delaware and you think the child she told you is yours might not be, now’s the time to find out for certain.  Or, if she had a child you think might be yours, you can learn the truth at no cost to you.

Of course, from the state’s perspective, this is all about child support.  The CSE’s job includes paternity establishment, and they clearly figure that it’ll be easier and cheaper to offer the tests for free than it would be to locate the men and shanghai them into court.

“When the relationship between a child’s parents end (sic), it does not mean that either parent’s responsibility to the child ends,” said Rita Landgraf, secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services, which oversees the division.

Notice that she said parental responsibility doesn’t end, and that’s true.  But she didn’t say a word about parental rights to the child or the child’s rights to a relationship with the parent.  If Delaware is like other states and the federal government, that’s a glaring, if expected, omission.  The simple fact is that state and federal governments spend vastly more to enforce child support orders than they do to enforce visitation orders.  For example, the federal government budgets about $5 billion a year for child support enforcement, but only $10 million for visitation enforcement.  That’s a 500:1 ratio.  The cost of administering the “free” DNA tests may well be reimbursed out of those federal dollars.

Of course, a lot of that $5 billion goes into the coffers of state attorneys general who employ lawyers to go to court to establish paternity, get and enforce child support orders.  Since 84% of custodial parents with child support orders are mothers, the vast majority of those funds benefit them.  Simply put, states spend vast sums of money to employ attorneys to represent mothers in court against fathers.  Those expenditures are reimbursed by the federal government.

But when a father needs an attorney to file the proper motions, assemble the proper evidence and appear in court to enforce his visitation rights, the state isn’t interested.  As far as I can tell, states spend no money at all to do that and neither do the feds.  Yes, the United States sends that paltry $10 million to the states every year, but, by law, it can’t be used to help non-custodial parents hire attorneys.  Given that most parents don’t have the money to hire a lawyer every time the custodial ex interferes with visitation, that means that, as a practical matter, mothers can deny visitation with impunity.  And many do.

“Child support is not just about the money,” said Charles Hayward, director of the Division of Child Support Enforcement. “Both parents play an important role in the growth and development of children. For children whose parents were not married to each other when the child was born, the law does not recognize the father until paternity has been established. Besides the emotional benefits of establishing paternity, both parents’ names then will appear on the birth certificate. Paternity means children can receive medical or life insurance from either parent, and critical family medical history is developed. Establishing paternity also provides the legal basis for the father to obtain custody/visitation rights, and allows for financial support, including child support, inheritance, military allowances, Social Security and veteran benefits. DNA, or genetic testing, is easy and requires only a simple swab of the cheek to obtain the DNA sample. Men need to establish paternity. Their children deserve it.”

What their children deserve is a real relationship with their fathers, but Delaware has no intention of lifting a finger to foster that.  Into the bargain, as Prof. Sanford Braver showed years ago, fathers are more likely to pay child support and pay it in full, when their visitation rights aren’t interfered with by the mother.  So if Delaware and the other 49 states were really serious about supporting children, they’d be taking visitation rights as seriously as they do child support, maybe more so.  But they don’t.  It’s almost as if their antipathy for fathers outweighs their  interest in children’s welfare.  But that could never be.  Could it?

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