September 3, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Paternity fraud is in the news again with this excellent post by Diane Dimond (DianeDimond.net, 8/31/15). With one exception, she nails it.
The hard-charging organization, Women Against Paternity Fraud, is working diligently to bring awareness of the scourge of paternity fraud to a wider audience. Good for them and good for Dimond too. I’ve written a lot about the problem, but always, more must be said. Put simply, there is no good reason why a civilized society should tolerate paternity fraud. It serves no legitimate purpose and harms everyone it touches. When a mother identifies the wrong man as the father of her child, she sets off a ripple of effects that outrage the conscience and potentially threaten lives. As Dimond puts it,
The result? Circles of victimized people. First, the child who is denied the truth about who their biological father is, the hereditary disease they may develop, their heritage, extended family and inheritance rights. Then there is the innocent man and his family. They are robbed of hard-earned cash and emotional well-being. Living with an unfair court order — one that demands compliance for as long as 18 years — takes a terrible toll.
All true, but there’s more. Adults bond with children at the deepest biochemical level possible and children do the same with adults. When the child bonds with the wrong man and the wrong man bonds with the child, only to learn perhaps years later that the bond has always been based on a lie, the trauma inflicted on both is incalculable. The child’s mother has lied to it every day of its life. How’s that for a devastating blow to its relationship with its mother? And of course she’s lied to the man who’s taken up the role of father.
So the damage done by paternity fraud is scarcely just practical — medical problems for the child, financial ones for the man. It’s one of the most powerful emotional wrongs anyone can do to another person.
But there’s another person in the mix Dimond neglects to mention — the actual father. For how many years is he deprived of the right to know and raise his own child? Did he see its first steps, hear its first words? Did he walk little Andy or Jenny to school that first day? Did he get to read his child to sleep or teach it to throw a ball? No, Mom deprived him of all that and much, much more. And of course she deprived little Andy or Jenny of the right to know and love their real dad.
No discussion of paternity fraud is complete without a mention of everyone who’s harmed, and that includes the man whose DNA went to produce the child. Our culture too easily accepts the myth that fathers don’t care about or want to help raise their children. Ignoring the true father in a paternity fraud case is part of that false narrative.
Of course few acts of paternity fraud would occur if our laws didn’t approve, but they do — enthusiastically.
Countless children go through life not knowing the true identity of their father. Shame on their mothers. And shame on the U.S. court system that, more often than you realize, forces child support on men with no DNA connection. These false establishments of paternity, as they are called, happen in courts across the country. Our broken family court system is intent on getting someone — really anyone — on record as being responsible for the child so the state won’t be.
Dimond gives examples.
Sara has just given birth. Andrew, at home on leave from the military, is at the hospital with his wife and is ecstatic at the thought of becoming a father and starting his own family. A hospital staffer presents Andrew with a paternity acknowledgement form and he signs it without a second thought. Two years later, after a raging argument, Sara reveals the child is not his. She won’t identify the biological father and even after Andrew’s DNA test proves he is not related he is told the time limit to challenge paternity has passed and he is legally bound to pay support until the child is 18.
Teenager Anita gives birth — alone — and when she applies for state aid to help with her expenses she is told she must give the father’s name and his last known address. Anita, scared and broke, puts down the name of a long-ago boyfriend and a phony address. When boyfriend doesn’t show up in court (because how could he? He was never notified) an automatic default judgment is entered and he is on the hook for 18 years of child support.
Jose faced a similar situation except he was served with court papers. He shows up in court to explain that he hasn’t seen his former lover for two years. His offer to take a DNA test is ignored and without the money to hire a lawyer the process rolls over Jose. He, too, is ordered to pay years of support for a child that isn’t his.
There’s a pattern here and Dimond sees it all too clearly. It’s that the legal system wants someone to pay and, as Dimond says, that someone can be anyone. Years ago, I facetiously suggested that, when an unmarried woman gives birth, we should simply assign fatherhood at random. Perhaps we could put the social security numbers of all males over the age of, say, 16, in a data bank and randomly choose one for each child born to a single mother. Wow, cool! Andy’s “Dad” is Bill Gates. Ooh, bummer, Jenny’s is in prison.
Such a system would be absurd, but the truth is that we care little more about identifying the right man than such an arrangement would. Don’t believe me? Ask Carnell Alexander, the Detroit man whom all agree isn’t the child’s father, but who’s required to pay to support it anyway. Yes, the child’s mother intentionally lied to child support enforcement authorities, a fact she now admits. No, the courts never gave Alexander notice of the hearing at which he was adjudicated to be the father.
But none of that matters. What matters is that the mother received welfare benefits and the state wants to get repaid. Alexander is the closest thing they have to a dad, so he’s the one to pay. Period. The system violates the most basic rules of due process of law; it violates decency and common sense; and of course it injures two men and a child in each case of paternity fraud. What good does it do?
WAPF is fighting back.
Dianna Thompson is president of a non-profit group called Women Against Paternity Fraud. They want a federal law declaring that no paternity finding is final until a DNA test proves the identity of a biological father. And, they want consideration given to the other women involved in these almost unbelievable scenarios like grandmothers, sisters, aunts, girlfriends and wives of falsely accused men.
Thompson wrote to tell me this is more than just a problem for duped dads. She called it, “A national epidemic” and recounted the personal stories of some of her supporters. One woman didn’t discover her “Dad” wasn’t related to her until she was 50 and attending his funeral. Another also found her biological father’s family later in life and learned there was a history of breast cancer. Had she known she might have avoided the trauma of her own breast cancer.
A national epidemic? Although we don’t really know how common paternity fraud is, my best guess is that Thompson is right. Amazingly, there’ve been no systematic efforts to gauge the rate of paternity fraud. The only tools we have are surveys whose populations are so specialized that their findings can’t be extrapolated to the general population.
So the National Association of Blood Banks (that licenses DNA testing labs across the country) annually finds between 25% and 30% of men in divorce cases who challenge paternity are not the father they thought they were. Other studies find rates as low as 2%. My own poor efforts to synthesize the information came back in 2000. The most accurate figure I could come up with was between 6.9% and 10% of all births were fathered by a man other than the one who thought he was the dad.
In the United States, there are about 4.3 million children born every year. If my figures are correct, that would mean that between 297,000 and 430,000 children born every year with a father figure who’s not their father. That in turn would mean that between 5.3 million and 7.7 million minor children (i.e. those under the age of 18) have been victims of paternity fraud.
Epidemic? You bet it is.
This outrage might have been understandable 50 years ago when we didn’t have the technology with which to identify a child’s father. But now we do. DNA testing is highly reliable and fairly inexpensive. And however much it costs, it’s cheaper in every way than the system we have now in which non-fathers by the thousands successfully prove their non-paternity every year. That requires much money, much judicial time and boundless heartache for all concerned.
It would be far, far better to use the technology we have and get paternity right from the outset. We have the tools. Let’s use them.
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