Mike, from Washington County, got married and he and his wife had a baby girl. Years later, he found out that his wife had been cheating on him for the entire length of their marriage.Mike filed for divorce and demanded a paternity test on the child.”Got the results back and it was zero percent chance that I am the biological father,” he said.
It’s pretty much a standard, off-the-shelf case of paternity fraud, so what came next should be no surprise. Sure enough, the mother who’d defrauded Mike sued him for child support and won. Read about it here (KDKA, 2/23/10). He’s surprised for all the reasons men who are victims of paternity fraud are always surprised – he thought actual paternity had something to do with paternal obligations. He didn’t know – although he certainly knows now – that state laws routinely reward lying and misrepresentation by mothers when child support is at stake. As Mike himself said,
“So they’re basically rewarding the adulterous liars for being adulterous and lying and deceiving,” he told KDKA-TV.
That’s about the size of it. Interestingly, this time it’s not even about money. Often enough, the state just wants to be sure there’s a man to pay child support. It doesn’t matter that he’s not the father; he’s a source money for child support, so pretty much any relation to the child or the mother will do for an order to issue against him. That’s often the case in which a woman who’s received TANF money identifies the wrong man as the father of her child. The state wants reimbursement and is not about to let little things like fraud get in the way of obtaining it.
Since the actual fact of paternity is of only marginal importance to the state and since getting reimbursement of TANF payments by the state is the main point of the exercise, I’ve been moved in the past to suggest that we just do it like jury duty. States could maintain a list of all sexually-mature males in the state, and every time there’s an unmarried mother receiving welfare, the state could just choose a man at random. He’d get a notice in the mail that he owed the state X amount and, oh by the way, he has parental rights to a child somewhere. It makes about as much sense as the way we do it now.
But money’s not the issue here. Mike’s ex-wife moved in with her boyfriend who is the child’s father. So why not get the money from him? Why not have him be responsible for the child he actually helped bring into the world?
Well, it appears that Pennsylvania law doesn’t allow that to happen. It, like most other states, has a presumption that a married woman’s husband is the father of any child born to her. Statistics show that that’s not true in something like 7-10% of cases, and given that we now have an incontrovertible method of proving who the actual father is, you might think that states would just do genetic testing of all children and establish paternity once and for all.
But no. They prefer to allocate paternity, not on the basis of sound science but on the basis of a legal fiction established long before anyone could ascertain paternity for certain. And apparently in Pennsylvania, the presumption can’t be rebutted, even by DNA.
Of course it’s not enough to do DNA testing long after a child is born. Mike’s case makes it clear why. He’s spent years caring for and bonding with his daughter, so for him the fact of biology is inextricably linked to non-biological things. Should he give her up just because another man’s sperm gave her life?
And in any case, the child Mike raised for so long has two fathers – Mike, who pays support and presumably has a visitation order, and the biological dad with whom the girl lives. So why not let Mike visit and let the other man pay? Or if Mike gets custody, his ex can pay.
The point being that doing DNA testing of all children at birth would obviate all the problems and confusion involved in the countless cases like Mike’s. Genetic testing of all children at birth would establish paternity from the start and allow men to sort out their relationships with children before too much attachment had been formed. It would save money and heartache and relieve courts of a lot of unnecessary litigation that never seems to have a fair or just outcome.
Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania legislator, Tim Solobay, has introduced a bill that would make a very small dent in current law. Specifically, HB1140 would permit DNA testing to determine paternity up to the child’s fifth birthday. If testing determined the child not to be the husband’s, the presumption of legitimacy would be rebutted. Apparently, after the child’s fifth birthday the husband is stuck regardless. So the bill, if passed, would simply require the woman to maintain the fiction that the husband is the father for five years and then everything remains as it is now.
This bill is no substitute for what would really solve the problem – genetic testing of all children at birth.