January 22, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
It looks like the State of Washington may be trying to catch up to much of the rest of the country, at least when it comes to identifying the actual fathers of children. A state senator has introduced a bill that would allow men to demand DNA testing in paternity cases. Read about it here (Spokesman-Review, 1/20/15).
Courts would be forced to consider DNA evidence that shows a man is not the father of a child before he can be ordered to pay child support under a state Senate bill that aims to stop paternity fraud in Washington.
You’d think that would be a pretty obvious thing to do, but apparently to date, the State of Washington hasn’t permitted them to do so. The reasons for identifying the correct man as the father of a child are many. First, for medical reasons, everyone needs to know their parents, if possible. If little Andy or Jenny goes to the doctor with breathing problems, a diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis will be ruled out unless both parents have the gene for the condition. If “Dad” isn’t actually dad, then the doctor may erroneously rule out CF. Obviously, there are many other diseases and conditions with a genetic component, so knowing one’s parents is vitally important.
Second, men should be responsible for supporting and caring for the children they help bring into the world. We can’t do that if we blind ourselves to who those men are.
Third, conversely, no man should be responsible for caring for or supporting a child he didn’t sire.
Fourth, women shouldn’t be empowered to pick a man to be the father of her child whose not. Without the ability to prove or disprove paternity, women can effectively do exactly that, which is the core of what paternity fraud is. Fathers need to be able to parent their own children and avoid parenting another man’s, unless they want to. It’s their decision and no one else’s.
Fifth, no man and no child should undertake a relationship assuming a blood tie only to learn after many years that it was a hoax. That’s too emotionally brutal for anyone to have to suffer.
Sixth, given the fact that the state now coerces income transfers from fathers to mothers in the form of child support, it’s incumbent on the state to take the money from the correct man.
Seventh, for every man duped into believing he’s the father of a child, there’s another man duped into believing he isn’t. Every man should be able to form relationships with, love and care for their own children.
Eighth, we have the technology to identify with certainty each child’s father. We should use it.
Up to now, a man can only challenge paternity up until the child’s third birthday. After that, he’s out of luck. That in effect encourages a woman bent on paternity fraud to keep the truth from him for just that long and she’s home free. The Senate bill would allow DNA testing at any time.
“It would no longer allow the courts to deny an appeal when a DNA test clearly shows that you’re not the father of a child,” Shawn West, of Spokane, told the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Monday.
In 1998, West was ordered to start paying child support to an ex-girlfriend even though he doubted he was the father of her child. He had 90 days to appeal the Spokane County Superior Court decision.
“I went and got a DNA test the next day,” he said.
It showed he wasn’t the father, and West and his lawyer eventually had the order overturned. But under current law, that wouldn’t have been possible if the child was older than 3. The bill would change that, allowing men to challenge paternity with a DNA test at any point.
That much of the bill is prospective, but it’s retrospective as well.
The bill also would allow a man to challenge an established paternity ruling and stop paying child support if a DNA test shows he’s not the father.
Again, that makes sense for all the reasons outlined above. It doesn’t matter when the issue comes to light, all children need to know who their parents are, as far as that’s possible. And all men need to know who their children are, and who they aren’t.
Of course the issue’s been raised in Washington, as it has been elsewhere, as solely a matter of who pays child support. That’s an important issue of course, but hardly the only one. But even that seems too hard for opponents of the bill to grasp.
David Ward, an opponent to the bill, said the change may help some men get out of child support payments, but hurt the children who would stop receiving them.
But of course that’s not true. If one man isn’t the child’s father, that means another man is. And that man needs to be identified so that he can support his own child and begin to form a relationship with it and it with him. The child won’t lack for child support just because the current payer is discovered to not be the dad.
But if, as the article says, the purpose of the bill is to eliminate paternity fraud in the state, this bill won’t do the job. After all, the bill only impacts men who are ordered to pay child support, i.e. only men who are going through divorces or paternity establishment hearings. The bill does nothing for the 50% or so of men who don’t do that. For those who get and stay married, paternity fraud would still be a very real possibility.
The hardest part of the problem of paternity fraud comes when a man has bonded with, loved, supported and cared for a child throughout many years of marriage but who, when he and his wife eventually divorce, learns he’s not the child’s father. By then, it may matter little that there’s no biological relationship; there’s a very real and all-but unbreakable connection between the two.
What’s he to do? Different men respond in different ways when faced with that situation. Some declare they don’t care and seek a continuing relationship with the child. Some walk away, too hurt by the mother’s betrayal to want any connection.
Those are truly heart-wrenching situations. Moreover, they are situations that the Washington bill in no way addresses. Under it, a man could at any time — either during divorce or after - demand a paternity test. And if he’s not the father, he can avoid child support. But that neither stops paternity fraud nor solves the problem of the duped dad who learns of Mom’s deceit years after the fact.
Of course there’s a way to do that. Just as we do with mothers who receive Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), we could require paternity establishment at the birth of every child. As a practical matter, that would mean performing DNA testing on every child and supposed father. If the woman’s husband or boyfriend turned out to not be the father, she’d be required to identify all possible fathers so they could be tested. In that way, we’d know the truth about paternity from the start. We’d have no men wondering if the child is theirs, no surprises in divorce court. Every child would know to a certainty who their father is and every father would know his offspring. And of course women would be greatly encouraged to tell the truth from the beginning.
Yes, DNA testing would cost money, but it would save enormous sums in the future in court costs and attorney fees. And the emotional savings in sheer certainty would more than make up for the monetary cost.
The bill in the Washington Senate is a good idea, but it’s only one step toward a goal we should all have — a true father for every child.
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