Countless children go through life not knowing the true identities of their fathers. 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 children so the state won’t be.
The result? Circles of victimized people.
First, the child who is denied the truth about who his or her biological father is, any hereditary diseases 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.
Examples of how this could happen:
- 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 that 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 is facing 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.
Hospitals take such great care to connect newborns to their mothers via matching identity bracelets, and their nurseries have 24/7 security protection. But what do family courts do to insure a defenseless child is connected to the proper father? Next to nothing. They take the mother’s word on paternity – case closed.
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 “Dad” wasn’t related to her until she was 50 and attending his funeral.
Another woman who found her biological father’s family later in life learned there was a history of breast cancer. Had she known she might have avoided the trauma of her own breast cancer.
Then there is the 13-year odyssey of Women Against Paternity Fraud’s co-founder, Alicia Thompson.
While waiting for her divorce to go through, Alicia began a relationship with another man. Months later, she became pregnant and DNA proved the boyfriend was the father.
No matter, the court cited the ancient common law of “presumption of paternity” and declared the soon-to-be-ex-husband responsible to support the child. Alicia refused to let that stand and agreed to let her husband relinquish his parental rights.
Her child was left fatherless in the eyes of the law. No medical insurance, no Social Security benefits or child support from her unsupportive biological father.
Alicia continues to fight this unfairness.
There is a lot in this world that isn’t fair. This is one thing we have the power to change. Why don’t we?