January 5, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
States continue to do handstands to avoid telling a child, the actual father and the supposed father the truth about the child’s paternity. Here’s the latest out of Pennsylvania (Legal Intelligencer, 1/3/18).
S.N.M. v. M.F. involved a child conceived out of wedlock. In 2003, when the child was two months old, the father, M.F., signed an acknowledgement of paternity, and he and the mother, S.N.M., entered into a shared custody agreement. The father continued to hold himself out as the child’s father for the next 13 years. In 2016, the father filed a motion for genetic testing. Over the mother’s objection, the trial court granted the father’s request and ordered genetic testing. The results of the testing excluded M.F. as the child’s biological father and, without a hearing on the results the trial court entered an order declaring that M.F. was not the child’s legal father. The plaintiff appealed that order.
The Superior Court reversed the trial court’s order saying the man had no right to genetic testing and is the child’s legal father if not its genetic one. The reasons for that I’ll get into later. For now though, I’ll just deal with the policy implications.
Why not test all children at birth? Why not get paternity right from the outset? If we did that relatively simple thing, there’d be no more cases like this to burden courts, traumatize children and parents alike. Why not save the time, money and heartache?
The “answer,” to the extent that it is one, seems to be that, if a man acts as the child’s father long enough, we shouldn’t allow him to withdraw from that role at some later date. After all, the child has come to think of him as Dad, so we shouldn’t allow him to throw a spanner into the works. We don’t want to confuse and traumatize the child.
The problem being of course that the “answer” is no answer at all. If all children were tested early on, there’d be, for all practical purposes, no men in the situation M.F. found himself. Yes, a few men would take on parental responsibilities knowing the child isn’t theirs, but paternity fraud would, in all but the rarest of instances, vanish from the earth.
I’m sure I don’t need to point out that this is all done under the guise of – all together now – “the best interests of the child.”
The primary concern for the courts in Pennsylvania has been, and continues to be, the best interest of the child.
Really? A child’s ignorance of its paternity is in its interests? A lot of doctors would disagree with that notion. Countless diseases and conditions are connected to a person’s genetic makeup and knowledge of that makeup is either necessary or at least valuable for a diagnosis. Cystic Fibrosis is a good example of a condition that, with the proper information about paternity, can be quickly diagnosed. Without it, the diagnosis will be ruled out. According to the State of Pennsylvania, that’s good for kids.
What if the actual dad is wealthy and the supposed dad is poor? Is poverty good for kids? What if the supposed father is an abuser, a drug addict, a criminal and the biological father is a fine, upstanding citizen? Is having a marginal and marginalized (by a family court) “father” good for a child?
The answers to all of the above are of course obvious. So what’s the likely rejoinder by whoever supports laws like Pennsylvania’s that aim to keep one child and two men in the dark about paternity? They’ll tell us that, irrespective of the truth, children need stability in their lives and that removing one man and substituting another is too disruptive for the child’s well-being.
That has an appealing ring to it until we realize the obvious – that no state takes such an argument seriously. We know that because, if they did, they’d never allow things like remarriage if a child is in the home or step-parenting. What is divorce and remarriage when there’s a child involved but the removal of one parent in favor of a stranger Mom or Dad marries. Are divorce and the marginalization of one parent (usually Dad) not upsetting to the child, not disruptive, not traumatizing? We well know that they’re all of those things, and yet we wouldn’t dream of denying Mom her new beau because the child might not respond well. States happily permit children to have multiple adults in their lives, all of whom are deemed to be parents of one sort or another, but when it comes to paternity fraud, they shrink in horror at the very idea.
In foster care, children are swapped from one family to the next routinely. A child who spends much time in foster care may well have six or eight different sets of parents. And yet no one argues that, once a child is in a foster home, he/she must remain there. Foster parents have the right to stop fostering altogether or stop fostering a given child any time they like. Is that in a child’s best interests?
Paternity fraud is nowhere illegal. No jurisdiction anywhere in the world, as far as I know, requires any mother to simply tell the man who fathered her child that he did so. Plus, false swearing for the purposes of paternity establishment in Title IV-D cases is routinely smiled at. I’ve never seen any form of punishment for doing so. No jurisdiction requires a mother to tell the truth about the father of her child.
Given all that, there’s an inescapable conclusion to be drawn about paternity fraud and the laws regarding paternity in those cases. States bend over backward, violate basic legal precepts to ensure that mothers maintain power not only over children, but over men’s parental rights and duties. When there’s such a simple and obvious solution to the problem, when no jurisdiction anywhere avails itself of it and when there’s so much expense, wasted time and heartache resulting from the current “system,” what else can we conclude?
More on this next time.
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