The Supreme Court of Iowa has recognized a cause of action for paternity fraud by unmarried men. Read about it here (Des Moines Register, 6/1/12).
Although the article isn’t clear, here’s what appears to have happened: Joseph Dier and Cassandra Peters had a relationship in about 2008. They were never married, but she had a son in 2009 and Dier paid her child support, believing the boy was his. At some point, Dier decided the child would be better off with him and moved for custody. Peters, suspecting the boy had not been fathered by Dier, asked the family court for genetic testing that proved Dier was not the father.
I suppose Peters was pleased with that outcome since it meant Dier was out of the custody picture. What she didn’t count on was his lawsuit against her for paternity fraud claiming all monies he’d paid her in child support plus the cost of litigation. The trial court dismissed his suit, ruling correctly that, under Iowa law, she’d done nothing wrong.
But the Supreme Court disagreed, establishing a new civil cause of action for damages, saying Dier can sue Peters.
I’ve dealt extensively with paternity fraud cases over the years and, put simply, those who claim that defrauded men should have no legal recourse, don’t have a single valid argument. For example, there’s the claim that “public policy” requires that men be the ones to bear the consequences of women’s wrongdoing.
The 24-page opinion notes that “courts in other jurisdictions are divided as to whether to recognize paternity fraud claims. Courts disallowing such claims have relied heavily on considerations of public policy and child welfare” when refusing to carve tricked, married fathers out of their families.Public policy? Child welfare? What public policy refuses to punish fraud? What public policy allows a woman to choose which of two or more men she wants to act as father irrespective of his actual paternity? What public policy denies a child the vital information about his/her paternity with all the medical consequences that might entail? How does that promote a child’s welfare? What public policy is served by a mother’s tricking one man who’s not the father into believing that he is so he’ll invest love, care, emotion, time and money into being that parent? What public policy allows a mother to trick the man who is the father into believing he’s not so he’ll have no opportunity to invest the love, care, emotion, time and money into being that father? What public policy allows a mother to convince a child that one man’s his/her father when he isn’t and destroy that child’s world when her lie is revealed and the real father comes into the picture? Public policy? Child welfare? No. Paternity fraud serves neither and it’s high time a court of law admitted the fact.
Then there’s the argument that, however wrong her actions may have been, we can’t allow her to be sued because that would take money away from her and therefore the child. The obvious answer to that is that we do that nowhere else in American jurisprudence, so why would we do it with paternity fraud? If Mom runs a stop sign and hits a pedestrian, can she defend herself in court by saying “Hey, I’m a mother; if I have to pay a judgment, it’ll take money away from my child?” What about if she sticks up a convenience store and shoots the clerk? Can she keep out of jail because going there would adversely affect her child? Is motherhood just a Get-Out-Of-All-Legal-Responsibility card? Not yet. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed.
“It is true that Dier’s success in the litigation could diminish the resources that Peters has available in the future to support (the child), but this would be true of any lawsuit against Peters,” justices ruled. “We have never afforded parents a general defense from tort liability on the ground they need all their money to raise their children.So those who argue that all cases of paternity fraud by mothers should be given a pass, while two men and one child suffer the consequences, don’t have a leg to stand on.
Meanwhile, there’s nothing about paternity fraud that’s any different from other kinds of fraud that typically occur in a commercial setting. It’s a lie on which the other person relies by spending money. That’s what fraud is, and it should be treated the same way. And, speaking of public policy, by ruling that there are consequences to paternity fraud, the Supreme Court voiced one of its own.
“Also, we need to consider the public policy implications of an opposite ruling,” the court said. “We recognize fraud as a cause of action partly to deter lying. One good reason to allow fraud claims to go forward in the area of paternity fraud is to avoid the situation that has allegedly arisen here.”In other words, if the state lets lying go unpunished, it encourages lying; if it punishes lying, it deters it. Maybe the next mother who feels the urge to defraud one man into paternity and another out of it will think twice. And if she does, everyone will be better off.
As I’ve said many times before, only one person knows with whom a woman has had sex – her. That means she and only she has the information about who may be the father if she becomes pregnant. And if there’s more than one man who may be the father, she has a moral obligation to all possible fathers and her unborn child to tell each man that he may be the father. From there, they can all figure out who the dad is, he can take up his parental rights and obligations, and everyone else can go on about their lives. That’s a moral obligation that the vast majority of women have no problem complying with.
But there are always some for whom moral strictures aren’t enough, and for them we create legal ones. That’s what the Supreme Court of Iowa just did, and it’s high time.