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January 12, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The many ways in which state and federal governments intervene to prevent children from having relationships with their fit and loving fathers deserves a book-length treatise. Whatever politicians may say about the value of fathers to children, the reality is that fatherlessness is public policy. We simply have too many laws, regulations and policies that promote the destruction of the father-child bond, and we maintain those laws, regulations and policies in the face of too much science demonstrating them to be flawed for us to conclude other than that fatherlessness is the public policy of the United States and the several states.

Just last week I wrote about Jose Vargas, yet another victim of Utah’s dedication to keeping fathers out of children’s lives. For the umpteenth time, Utah would rather waste a scarce resource – good adoptive parents – on a child who doesn’t need to be adopted because she has a fit, loving father to care for her than allow him to care for her.

Christopher Farrell’s story is another chapter of that same book on fatherlessness as public policy (Palm Beach Post, 1/7/1). In his case, adoption isn’t involved, but still the State of Florida ensures that he can have no contact with his own child. And, as in Utah, the ironic justification is – what else? – the best interests of the child.

When Christopher Farrell learned his girlfriend was pregnant, he was ecstatic. He painted the walls of a bedroom in his Loxahatchee house blue and filled them with lovable characters from the Disney classic, “The Lion King.”

Weeks before his son’s August 2015 birth, he summoned his family to a baby shower to have them celebrate his good fortune. His girlfriend, who was at the top of the guest list, never showed up. Inexplicably, she didn’t return his phone calls or texts.

While Farrell didn’t know it at the time, it marked the end of his hopes of experiencing the joys of fatherhood.

Even though there is no question that Farrell is the child’s biological father, he has no right to see him, talk to him, support him or help raise him.

Why? Because Farrell isn’t married to his child’s mother, and she is married to someone else. In short, because a married woman had an extra-marital sexual affair and became pregnant as a result, the biological father is a stranger to his child. The biological mother is not such a stranger. She’ll see the child every day of its life if she chooses, but not the dad. Only he is affected by the law that considers him a non-person vis-à-vis his own flesh and blood.

Many states presume that a child born to a married woman is the offspring of her husband. But, as with all legal presumptions, that one can be rebutted by competent evidence including the results of genetic testing. Most states have some mechanism by which a man can challenge the paternity of a child, have the matter resolved by a court and either establish or disestablish his parental rights. Not so Florida.

“If the child is born in an intact marriage and if the husband and mother want to remain married the (biological) father has zero rights,” said Orlando family law attorney Susan Savard…

But, antiquated or not, Florida law is steeped in the notion that no child should suffer the stigma of illegitimacy, [attorney Elisha Roy] said.

Ah yes, “the stigma of illegitimacy.” Unfortunately for Farrell and every other man in his position, Florida is happy to use a 60-year-old concept to deprive him and his child of the opportunity at a relationship. Someone should inform Florida’s Legislature that there is no longer any “stigma” to “illegitimacy.” Most people know that, for many years now, between 40% and 42% of children born in the United States are born illegitimate, i.e. to a single mother. And guess what. It’s no longer important. How could it be when 1.6 million kids are born every year outside of marriage?

That’s all true of course, but it does nothing for Christopher Farrell or his child who may one day need to tell a physician accurate facts about his medical inheritance. It’ll be too bad when the child answers “I don’t know” to all the doctor’s questions, answers the doctor needs to know to diagnose and treat a particular condition. But apparently, those matter-of-life-and-death issues must take a back seat to a policy the linked-to article rightly calls “antiquated.”

And of course the unequal treatment of biological mothers and fathers is more of the same – something to be ignored or glossed over.

But let’s examine Farrell’s case further. Notice that attorney Savard said he has no parental rights “if the husband and mother want to remain married.” What if they don’t? What if Hubby decides he’s not enthusiastic about raising another man’s child with a deceitful wife? What if he divorces her?

As part of the divorce, he’ll prove his non-paternity to the court and be on his merry way, free of any obligations to the child.

For that matter, what if Mom decides she wants a divorce. After all, she’s pursued a sexual relationship with another man, so how solid can her commitment be? If she’s the one to file for divorce, her husband will once again prove he’s not the father.

So what happens then to Farrell’s rights and responsibilities? Like flowers after a spring rain, they’ll sprout into being. All of a sudden, the whole matter of illegitimacy flies out the window. All of a sudden, Mom can demand child support and get it. All of a sudden, Farrell can demand visitation with his child and likely get that too, albeit in some absurdly truncated form.

And of course, if Mom receives welfare benefits under Temporary Aid to Needy Families, guess who’ll repay the state. That’s right, Farrell will.

Has the child in some way become legitimate when before it wasn’t? No, it’s just as illegitimate, but now – whether one month, one year or 18 years hence – Farrell’s a dad.

The point being that the notion of protecting children from “the stigma of illegitimacy” is a shibboleth. But the results are all too real and direct. Florida policy is to remove fit, loving biological fathers from their children’s lives and there’s not a thing the dads can do about it.

There’s a sensible way to deal with this issue of course. Men should have the right to establish and/or disestablish paternity via DNA testing. They should be able to do so at any time and have their rights and obligations regarding children decided in accordance with the results of those tests. If there’s a “psychological” father, i.e. one who’s contributed no DNA but who’s played the role of father to the child, then parental rights and obligations can be sorted out among the mother and the two fathers.

That’s not difficult to understand or apply to real situations. And it addresses the reality of current life in this country, that almost half of all children are born out of wedlock and, for better or worse, no one much cares. It would allow fathers to assert their parental rights and bring those rights more in line with those of mothers. And most importantly, it would allow children to maintain real relationships with the adults who love them.

What’s not to like?

#biologicalfather, #fathers'rights, #divorce, #singlemothers, #equalprotection

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