June 9, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Paternity fraud is one of the worst miscarriages of justice in all our legal system. The law on paternity fraud is utterly inadequate to achieve what most people would call “justice.” It’s inadequate for one main reason – money. Governments want to make sure the flow of money from father to mother in the form of child support continues, so they refuse to enact reasonable laws to protect the parental rights of duped “dads.”
In the process, all parties except possibly Mom are hurt. The child is hurt because he/she doesn’t know the truth about his/her father. Medical diagnosis and treatment can be skewed because of the resulting lack of information about the propensity for certain hereditary diseases or conditions. The man who believes he’s the father but isn’t is hurt because he’s required to support a child who’s not his. That means he may well refrain from having a child who is his due to his financial and emotional ties to the child who’s not his. And of course the true father is hurt because he’s denied a relationship with his own flesh and blood.
The almost entire absence of any laws prohibiting paternity fraud isn’t only due to the state’s interest in the money flow from child support. After all, generally speaking, one man can pay as well as another. The truly disgraceful aspect of paternity fraud its tendency to place fathers’ rights in mothers’ hands. The simple truth is that, if a man isn’t fully aware of the law of his state about paternity establishment and DNA testing (and few men are), one simple lie by the child’s mother will be sufficient to obligate him to her for 18 years of child support. Perhaps worse though is the fact that, irrespective of the biological facts of the matter, Mom can simply choose whom she wants the child’s father to be.
As I’ve said before, the entire system turns logic on its head. For all practical purposes, every woman knows with whom she’s had sex, but individual men only know that they had sex with any particular woman. They don’t know what other men have, if any.
So the sensible thing would be to require mothers – married or single - to accurately identify all men who may be the father of her child. That way, genetic testing could be conducted early on in the child’s life and the correct father identified. He could then take up his parental rights and duties and the child would never be in doubt about who his/her father really is.
That’s the sensible thing, but, as with essentially everything else about paternity fraud, that’s not what we do. Absurdly enough, we allow the person with all the information required for accurate paternity establishment to waltz through the process without ever telling anyone the truth. Meanwhile, we burden the men who don’t know (and can’t know) the whole truth with somehow figuring out that Mom’s not telling the truth.
No law anywhere requires a woman to tell the truth about who fathered her child. I repeat: no law anywhere.
All that makes the inestimable Dianna Thompson a valuable gift to the movement for justice and sanity in family courts. Here’s her latest article written for our military veterans (Vets First, 5/18/16). It’s an excellent primer on paternity fraud, what it is, how it happens, what the law is and how to protect yourself from becoming its victim.
“Paternity fraud” can occur in many ways:
Default Judgments – A mother seeking child support or welfare falsely identifies the wrong man as the father, leading to a court date wherein he does not appear and receives a judgment making him monetarily liable to the child.
Erroneous In-Hospital Paternity Acknowledgments – False identification of the true father by a mother who just gave birth. Prompting the proposed father to sign an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” document to become the child’s legal father.
Presumption of Paternity – According to paternity law and common law, it is the legal determination that a husband will be presumed to be a child’s biological father, when a woman becomes pregnant during marriage.
Many people are unaware that there are no requirements for a mother (the one person who knows the true paternity candidates) to truthfully disclose the biological father of their child when applying for welfare and child support. Additionally, they are only required to give a last known address of the man that they disclose as the father. If the man moved then he will not receive a summons for court. When a proposed father doesn’t show up for his court date to establish paternity he will instantly be identified as the father with a default judgment filed against him.
Few men are aware of the potential traps hidden in those seemingly innocuous procedures. And how many men are likely to, when they’ve just been handed “their” newborn baby to hold for the first time, say, “Let’s do a DNA test, just to make sure it’s mine?” In short, the entire legal system for establishing paternity of children is set up to snare unsuspecting men. And once caught in the law’s web, it’s hard-to-impossible to get out.
There is only a small window of time to contest paternity. It could be from one month to two years depending on the residing state. Many men are unaware of the statute of limitations. Deployed military members are often unable to contest. Often they discover they may not be the father after the statute of limitations has passed. Once the deadline has passed, the man can be deemed the legal father and forced to pay child support for 18 or more years.
Even judges know the law is unfair to everyone except mothers. Here’s what one California judge had to say about a ruling he was forced by law to issue:
In the official court transcripts [Judge Gregory] Pollack stated, “I don’t think that anybody really likes this ruling, but it is the law. So that’s my decision. I’m not happy with it. As I said, it ruined my weekend. It will probably ruin my next weekend if I keep thinking about it. The bottom line is we have to follow the law, and if there’s something about the law that results in a ruling that isn’t fair by contemporary notions of what fairness is, the legislature has to change it.”
But state legislatures have no intention of changing these unfair laws. Why? Because the federal government pays them for every paternity established for children born to unmarried women. That encourages states to make establishing paternity as easy as possible, which in turn encourages them to curtail fathers’ rights. The justification is invariably that we want children to receive child support, but that’s clearly a sham. If one man is shown not to be the father, why not simply order the true dad to pay? As I said, one man can pay as well as the next.
Thompson of course has some very sound advice for men on how to avoid the paternity fraud trap.
1. Educate yourself on the laws in your state regarding paternity prior to marriage and conception.
2. If you have any doubts about a claim that you fathered a child, contest paternity immediately.
3. Do not sign a paternity acknowledgment form without first obtaining a DNA test.
As to No. 2, let’s remember that the annals of paternity fraud are filled with cases of men who had no doubt about being a child’s father, only to find out they weren’t. So here’s what I’d add to Thompson’s list: Go online. Get a kit from a lab to test paternity. Collect and send in the samples from yourself and the baby. If the results come back indicating you’re the dad, you almost certainly are. If they indicate otherwise, you’re almost certainly not. All that can be done confidentially.
Now, those test results aren’t admissible in court because the judge doesn’t know whether you’ve collected the samples competently and honestly. But you know you have, so if your results show you’re not the dad, you know to contest paternity formally in court. That’ll mean getting the court to order genetic testing whose results you know ahead of time. But the collection of the samples will be done by an employee of the testing lab, so the court knows it can rely on the results.
The bottom line? DNA testing is accurate, inexpensive and confidential. Use it! By your own efforts alone, you can avoid becoming a victim of paternity fraud. Get tested.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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