A 16-year-old boy can’t know the identity of his biological father for another two years a Chicago area court ruled recently. That ruling is just the latest in a 12-year saga in which the boy’s mother has successfully blocked his father from having any contact with his son. Read about it here (Chicago Tribune, 1/2/12).
It all started in 1993 when the woman and the father had a five-year affair. Both were married to other people, none of whom can be named due to a court’s gag order. The boy was born in 1996. In 1998, her paramour filed suit to ascertain paternity and gain visitation rights if he turned out to be the father.
The threat of that suit prompted the mother to tell all to her husband who agreed to continue raising the child as his own, whether or not he turned out to be. Eventually, DNA testing showed the non-husband to be the boy’s father, and that triggered a 12-year legal donnybrook that continues to this day. Among other things, that legal dispute involved an effort by both the mother and her husband to adopt the child they’d already been raising and who was unquestionably the child of the mother.
The adoption effort went nowhere and at least one appellate judge thinks it was never meant as anything but a delaying tactic. If so, it clearly worked given the fact that the case has entered its 13th year of life. Its byzantine course has taken it through several trial courts, four appellate courts and to the state Supreme Court once. It’s now back in the trial court and, although the linked-to article never says so explicitly, the biological father has been unsuccessful in having any contact with his son. To date, he’s had no visitation rights and paid nothing in child support despite 12 years of trying.
That of course also means that the boy has never had contact - much less a relationship – with the man who helped bring him into the world and whose genes he shares. Now Will County Judge Robert Baron has ruled that he may not be informed of his paternity for another two years.
Although expert testimony sharply conflicted on the question, the judge decided that informing the boy about his biological father would be too emotionally traumatic for him. Exactly why that would dramatically change in two years is left unexplained. And, reading the article, it’s hard not to conclude that the person being shielded from harm is less the boy than it is his mother.
At a hearing in late 2010, the boy’s mother testified that telling the truth now “is going to kill him, not to mention the strain it will put on our family.”The boy’s older brother and sister said they had been shocked and dismayed when they learned the truth about their brother’s paternity. Whether the knowledge damaged them emotionally or whether it affected their relationship with their mother – facts that are clearly pertinent to the issue - goes unmentioned in the article.
She said learning the truth will be the “most traumatic experience for (my son) so far in his life” and worried that he would be “very angry and hurt” toward her and the boy’s relationship with her husband might also suffer.
Experts said that, generally speaking, it’s better for kids to learn the truth from their parents in a controlled setting.I agree, and that’s why it looks to me that the person being protected here is the mother, not the boy.
“Typically secrets are usually not a good idea,” said Linda Hageman, executive director of adoption services at The Cradle in Evanston. “The truth is going to come out eventually — it’s better to have it come out on your terms. That being said, most kids who are being raised in a warm, supportive environment can adjust to news that is potentially upsetting.”
I also have to wonder if the adults in the case aren’t engaging in a bit of wishful thinking. Apparently this is a smart kid from a privileged background who does well in school, has lots of friends, etc. His family has been embroiled in this highly contentious litigation for 12 years. Do the adults really think he knows nothing, suspects nothing? They’ve doubtless spent large sums of money and had endless conversations among themselves about the case. They’ve spent many days in court and had extensive interaction with attorneys. They’ve received mail from courts and lawyers. All of that has gone on for 12 years and the kid doesn’t have a clue? I don’t believe it for a second.
But the main point is that, from the day she learned she was pregnant with him, the mother has wanted to keep his paternity secret from him, his biological father and her husband. She only told her husband the truth because her lover said he was seeking visitation. Ever after, she’s done everything in her power to keep the matter from the most important person in the whole case – her son. That’s been her choice and the courts have uniformly supported her despite the opinions of many experts.
The simple fact is that the boy could have been told about his “other” dad when he was three, the biological dad could have had contact with him, paid some child support and the boy would have grown up understanding that his situation, while odd, was workable and in no way unique. Little trauma would have ensued, just a complex family situation brought about by his mother’s decision to have sex outside of her marriage.
But Mom didn’t want that and now that he’s 16, it’s all gotten a lot more complicated.
Paternity fraud hurts many people. It hurts the man who’s not the father but thinks he is, it hurts the man who is the father but thinks he isn’t, and it hurts the child. In this case, the adults have known the truth for a long time and the longer they delay telling the boy the truth, the worse will be the likely consequences.
But the larger picture is the willingness of courts to abet the dishonesty of mothers who claim for themselves the sole authority to decide who will parent their child. When a woman lies about the paternity of a child, little good can come of it, but we can do a lot better than we do.
The simple fact is that, if she’d wanted his child support at any time, all she had to do is alert a court to his paternity. Had she done so, that same court would have “awarded” him visitation. Out of the blue, solely according to her desire, he would have become the child’s father. That would have occurred not because he’d ever lifted a finger to raise the child. He’d done no such thing because the mother decided that he shouldn’t know about his child.
Equal treatment of fathers and mothers by family courts demands that he too be able to come into his child’s life by the simple fact of his genetic connection. The emotional wellbeing of the child won’t be harmed any more by him deciding to play the paternal role than it would be by her deciding that he should.
But courts and laws have a disturbing way of ruling that it’s not in the child’s interests when Dad wants a part in his child’s life, but when Mom wants him to have one, it is. In so doing, they abet and encourage her fraud on two men and a child. It is long past time we put a stop to it.