August 19, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The organization, Women Against Paternity Fraud, has recently come out with a series of educational videos. This is their best yet. It’s hard-hitting, concise and packed with information about the big business that is paternity fraud in the United States. Put simply, it’s all about money. Follow the dollars and the resulting policies come as no surprise.
Narrator Dianna Thompson begins with perhaps the most telling of the historical facts about paternity fraud. In 2002, the California Legislature passed a law called the California Paternity Justice Act that would have required the state to get the right man when establishing paternity. But despite its passage by the legislature, then-Governor Gray Davis vetoed it. Why? Because, had he signed it into law, the state stood to lose some $40 million a year in federal funds.
When a woman receives benefits under the federal welfare program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, federal law strongly encourages states to require her to identify the father of her children. That’s because, once he’s identified, the state is required to get reimbursement from him of the TANF funds paid to her.
So, the more fathers the state identifies, the more money can be recouped and the happier the federal government is. Unsurprisingly, Washington offers states hefty rewards for paternity establishment and serious penalties for failing to do so. Thompson informs viewers that the federal government places a 90% threshold on states for paternity establishment. Fall below that threshold and states face financial penalties and requirements that they upgrade paternity establishment rates. Meet or exceed that level and Washington sends more money.
So the California Paternity Justice Act would have improved the lives of countless men and children in the Golden State, but, when balanced against the potential money lost, Davis had little difficulty deciding whether to sign the bill or kill it. Obviously, any legal requirements that made establishing paternity more difficult or time-consuming threatened the state’s ability to meet its federally-mandated target. In so doing, it risked reducing cash flow.
In case anyone missed the point, Davis made it clear saying the bill “would directly impact child support collections” and “jeopardize California’s ability to meet federal child support measures.”
But surely there’s nothing wrong with establishing who a child’s father is, right? After all, don’t we want as many fathers involved in their children’s lives as possible? So what’s the problem with the federal government encouraging states to do just that? And what does any of that have to do with paternity fraud?
The devil’s in the details. With that much money at stake, states routinely cut corners in their paternity establishment processes. That means that, if Mom identifies the wrong man, the state doesn’t necessarily care. One of the signal features of all the legal apparatus of child support enforcement is that neither the federal nor state governments impose any obligation to establish the correct man as the father. Truly, any man will do.
But how’s that possible in this day of accurate and reasonably inexpensive genetic testing? Actually, it’s not only possible, it’s simple. It happens by the legal magic of the Default Judgment.
States are obligated to give notice of the paternity proceeding to the man identified as the father. But all too often, men who know they’re not the father of the child in question simply ignore the court summons. Perhaps they don’t even know the mother. A man may have a name that’s similar to that of the actual father, but if he’s never met the mother, he’s likely to ignore notice sent to him by the court. Or, as the case of one Detroit man, he may never receive the notice at all.
Whatever the reason he doesn’t show up for the hearing, the court will enter a Default Judgment against him. It will establish him as the father and require him to begin paying an amount of child support based on a minimal amount of imputed income. Eventually the state will find him, and, for the first time, the man will come to understand that he’s required to pay for a child that’s not even his until the child becomes 18 or in some states older.
It’s all neat and clean. Lawyers for the state push through this type of case with all the careful consideration of canning fish. In vain do men who aren’t the fathers they’ve been adjudicated to be attempt to protest the ruling. They had their opportunity to make their case and failed to do so. The system moves on, collecting their money, ignoring the truth.
How often does this happen? When Governor Davis vetoed the California Paternity Justice Act, in Los Angeles County, 79% of paternity cases were disposed of by Default Judgment.
In short, the states are in the business of paternity fraud. Like California, they opt for federal money over the truth. There is nothing in federal law requiring them to accurately establish paternity and a great deal of federal money encourages them to do otherwise, to find a man, any man and get a court order calling him the dad. It’s a business, a transfer of wealth. And nothing as mundane as the truth will get in the way.
The Women Against Paternity Fraud video goes on to make the point that, if we’re truly interested in children’s welfare, we’ll dramatically change public policy on paternity establishment. That’s because children need to know who their parents are. Their physical health and well-being may well depend on knowing their genetic heritage. Many diseases and conditions have a genetic component and children need to know theirs in order to give their doctors accurate information. That’s true throughout their lives. Paternity fraud hits directly at that ability.
In addition to everything else, one of the most basic concepts of child support is that we want people who bring children into the world to be responsible for them. However dysfunctional the child support system may be, that concept is sound. But our current approach to paternity establishment directly contradicts it. Maybe we’d like the actual father to be responsible for his child, but, when it comes to a choice between that and federal money, we’ll take the money every time.
The WAPF video hits that one out of the park. It points out that, in paternity hearings — whether or not they involve the actual father — nothing is said about the relationship between the father and his child. No effort is made to establish that relationship, give him parental rights, allow him to see his child, set up a parenting time schedule. No, those courts have but two things on their minds — to adjudicate as father whatever warm body is present and to get the money flowing.
After that, Dad’s on his own. Alone and usually lacking the funds to do so, it’s up to him to file the correct motions and try to strong arm some recalcitrant judge into giving him a few days a month with the child he’s now paying to support. Most dads can’t do it. They don’t have the money to hire a lawyer or the education to do the job themselves. Meanwhile of course the state has a brigade of state-paid lawyers to make sure he’s identified and, if he falls behind on his payments, to jail him.
Can it get more one-sided?
The WAPF video is one of the best I’ve seen in a long while. Check it out as well as the others in their recent series.
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