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April 8th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Last week, ABC News did an interesting little sting operation on paternity fraud.  Here’s the video.

They wanted to see how people would react on learning that a pregnant woman was lying to her boyfriend about his paternity.  So ABC hired three actors, Eliza to play the “pregnant” girlfriend, Emma to play her friend and confidante and John to play the boyfriend who thinks he’s the dad but isn’t.   They put cameras in the Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell, New Jersey, stuffed Eliza’s shirt to make her look about eight months pregnant, gave her some ultrasound photos of a fetus and sat her down with Emma at a table within easy earshot of diners next to them.

Eliza proceeded to weep and wail about the fact that she’d told John the child was his, but it really wasn’t.  She and Emma loudly discussed the matter while the cameras recorded the expressions on the faces of three women eating at the next table.  The women are plainly agog at what they’re hearing, but say nothing.

So Emma gets up and leaves permitting Eliza to turn to the women and ask what to do.  One says she should tell John and another says she should have the child and then get a second DNA test “to be sure.”  The “bottom line” for them is that Eliza must create a happy life for the child and if that means lying to John to involve him in the life of a child who’s not his, then so be it.

Later, there’s a second group of women and the three actors go into their act.  When Eliza asks their advice, one says she has to tell John because eventually the truth will come out “and then where will you be?”  She also says something that suggests she knows about congenital illness and medical conditions that require the child to know its father.

At that point, John comes to the table and Eliza tells him what a great father he’s going to be.  Eventually Eliza leaves the table and John turns to the women at the table nearby.  He confesses that the pregnancy is a shock to him because he and Eliza had broken up and then, just a few days later, she told him she was pregnant.  “I guess we’re just supposed to be together,” he adds.  Despite his offering them the bait, no one says a word about what they “know” to be the truth – the child isn’t his.

Then Eliza comes back and John leaves.  Again the women say she should tell him, that he deserves to know the truth.

ABC said it replayed the scene again and again throughout the day at the Cloverleaf Tavern, and no one ever told John the truth – that Eliza was lying to him, that he wasn’t the father.  Not one.

It’s an interesting exercise, and bears out much of what I’ve said many times on this blog.  The salient feature of paternity fraud is that we allow women to decide the rights and obligations of men.  Who plays the dad’s role and who doesn’t is entirely up to Mom.  That’s the law’s take on the matter and it’s the women’s in the ABC piece as well.  Two women told Eliza that she should tell John, but ultimately they left it up to her.  Again, no one took it on themselves to look John in the eye and say, about one of the most important things in his life, “you’re not the dad; she’s lying to you.”

To ABC‘s further credit, it included the fact that “the legal system agrees,” that it’s the woman who should decide.  ABC points out that there are plenty of men paying child support for children who aren’t theirs.

So kudos to ABC News for bringing paternity fraud and our attitudes about it into our living rooms.  I doubt the brief segment will do much to change laws or attitudes, but every little bit helps.

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