June 19, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Finally! The State of Georgia has taken a simple and obvious step toward sanity in its system of child support enforcement. House Bill 568 that becomes law on July 1, requires the state’s child support enforcement authority to genetically test any man named as the father in a Title IV-D case. Read about it here (Florida Times-Union, 6/17/15). Those of course are cases in which the mother has received benefits under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. When that happens, the mothers are then required to name a man as father. That man is then required to reimburse the state for whatever was paid to the mother.
All too often, that system has resulted in men “established” as fathers who aren’t. The most recent and well-publicized such case is that of Carnell Alexander, the Detroit man currently facing jail for failing to pay $31,000 in support for a child everyone acknowledges isn’t his.
That’s actually a pretty common story. The mother names a man as father, the state sends him a notice to appear in court, he assumes there’s been a mistake because he can’t be the father of the child, so he doesn’t show up on the appointed day. That means he’s established as the father of the child by default, and there’s little he can do about it. But in Alexander’s case, he never received notice of the hearing, and he’s proved exactly that. He was in jail at the time and the process server’s affidavit claims he served Alexander at a residence address. In short, Alexander’s case is a true miscarriage of justice on anyone’s terms.
The new Georgia law means that there will be no Carnell Alexanders in that state.
The mandatory testing will be paid for initially by the Department of Human Services. If the correct man is identified by the mother, he will have to reimburse the state for the cost of the testing. If the man identified isn’t the father, then the mother has to pay the state.
And, in any child support case involving the Department of Human Services, the putative father can demand genetic testing as long as he can pay its cost.
In short, the State of Georgia has done what every state should do — take steps to ensure that men named as fathers actually are fathers and those who aren’t fathers aren’t burdened with supporting a child who’s not theirs.
As I said, it’s a simple and obvious step and, to its credit, the Georgia DHS is behind it all the way.
For the Division of Child Support Services, which will be responsible for ordering the tests, the law will bring a welcome change.
“This is huge for us,” said Tanguler Gray-Johnson, director of the Division of Child Support Services. “It benefits the program, and more importantly the child.”
DHS will be able to take the lead on child support cases and have paternity established up front.
Before, the DHS had to wait for court action against a person refusing to pay child support before ordering a DNA test.
After this, no longer will DHS find itself battling in court against men who say they were wrongly named as fathers. Now, from the outset, the father will be known and he’ll know he’s the father. That of course is a huge plus for dads. Unlike the true father in the Carnell Smith case, more fathers will know they have children, and in many cases, they’ll know it from the earliest days of the child’s life. That’ll mean more opportunity to bond with and establish meaningful relationships with their kids, something that now is just the luck of the draw.
My guess is that this will end up cutting costs for the state. Yes, they’ll incur some increased costs for testing, but a lot of that will be reimbursed either by fathers or mothers. But the DHS should save significant amounts in reduced courtroom time for its attorneys. There will be far fewer cases of wrongly identified men outraged at being told to pay for children they’d never heard of.
If the Georgia DHS supports this law, that probably means child enforcement agencies in other states would get behind similar laws. So there’s little excuse for other states not following suit. This is a step toward universal DNA testing of all children. Of course it’s a far cry from that, but it’s a step, and a healthy one.
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