SB 56, the new Colorado paternity fraud bill, addresses the dilemma faced by men who discover that the children they are paying child support for are not biologically theirs. The bill would allow “duped dads” to terminate their support obligations by utilizing DNA evidence. In a recent Rocky Mountain News column, Editorial Page Editor Vincent Carroll labels these men “the picky type whose parental love depends on a genetic link” and says they seek to throw their nonbiological children “overboard with a minimum of fuss.”
Carroll does have a point–SB 56 allows the duped dad to sever financial ties between the children and the only father they have ever known. Carroll, and the women’s advocates who oppose SB 56, are concerned that the bill will destroy close father-child bonds.
In many cases, however, paternity fraud claims arise after the duped dad has been pushed to the margins of the children’s lives during a divorce or separation. Sometimes the mother even attempts to use the fact that the man is not the biological father as a way to get the family court to limit or deny him visitation time, while still demanding that he pay child support. Perhaps a Gandhi or a Saint Joseph might be content to pay their exes a large portion of their income in such situations, but they may be the only ones.
Carroll, and practically every other person who has ever written about paternity fraud, misses an important point–many duped dads still want to parent their nonbiological children, provided they are allowed a meaningful role in their lives. Some duped dads even wage long, expensive legal battles to remain in the lives of the children with whom they have bonded. Paternity fraud receives substantial media coverage, but these men rarely make the news stories.
For these men, SB 56 is not a way out of fatherhood but a way back in. It would give duped dads the bargaining power they often need to preserve their relationships with the children. Under SB 56, a duped dad could say to his ex-wife, “Yes, I’m willing to help support the children financially, but you first need to allow me to have a relationship with them.”
Carroll and others seem to equate child support with fatherhood. There is nothing in SB 56 which prevents a father from continuing his relationship with the children, or from financially supporting them, as long as the mother allows it. If the bill’s opponents want to effectively preserve the bonds between these duped dads and their nonbiological children, their focus should not be on child support but instead on creating a presumption of shared parenting after a divorce or separation. Under this presumption, as long as both parents (including nonbiological fathers) are fit, they will each have the right to substantially equal physical time with their children. Such legislation would greatly reduce the number of men seeking to disestablish paternity.
Even for those duped dads who do want out, opponents of SB 56 should be more understanding. Some of these men are heartbroken that their wives lied to them and the children over such an important and intimate matter. Many feel a burning sense of humiliation. Some have been manhandled by the bungling, often abusive child support system, and have no desire to remain under its heel for another 10 or 15 years.
It is true that these men sometimes don’t handle the situation as well or as nobly as we would like. Nonetheless, they deserve better than to be harshly denounced as they grapple with the terrible problem their ex-wives created for them.