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Abuses in Establishing Paternity

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"The states are hugely incentivized to establish paternities,
and one man will serve as well as another..."

To maximize child support collections, the federal government requires each state to have paternity establishment procedures.  The federal government also provides penalties and incentives to the states related to their performance in paternity establishment.  Eligibility for receipt of federal funds under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and under the incentive formula depends on tagging the largest number of men, and there is no review or requirement that it be the right men.  With the enormous sums of federal funds at stake, the result is not difficult to predict.  

WAPF believes that the eligibility for receipt of federal funds given to states under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) must change.  Kevin Harrison, Deputy Director in Orange County, CA -- Department of Child Support Services was quoted as saying, "...The bottom line in the drive to find some man, any man, to drive up paternity establishments rate is that "fairness was not a high concern"..."


Abusive practices in the false paternity establishments occur in many ways; however, there are three major pathways (described below) to false paternity establishments that are the direct result of poorly designed state systems.

Default Judgements

courtroomMothers who are applying for child support or welfare benefits must disclose who the father of their child is so that paternity can be established and benefits approved.  

And yet, there is no requirement for mothers to make a truthful disclosure to the alleged father, to government officials, and to the courts as to who the "true" father is and if another man could be the father.  

In many paternity fraud cases the mother willingly and knowingly conceals who the true father is (or may not know).


Applicants applying for child support and welfare benefits must also give the "last known address" of the proposed father.  In many cases, the addresses are not correct and therefore the summons for paternity establishment goes to the wrong address and the proposed father never receives it.  When he doesn't appear in court because he did not receive the summons -- a default judgment -- will be issued and he will turn into an instant dad.

In Los Angeles County alone, 80% of paternity establishments are entered by default judgment, and the state as a whole the number is sixty-eight percent. However, California is not alone.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of Inspector General (HHS/IG report) reported that in "seven states' child support agencies report half or more of paternities established in their states occur through defaults.

The inspector general further reported that "[t]wenty-four percent of local offices in focus states report half of more of paternities in their caseloads are established by default. Some default judgments are expected but with such a high rate of default judgments nationwide clearly there is something terribly wrong with the system.
 

Lack of Legal Representation

scales justice courtroom 20405420There are very few environments in which one is more at the mercy of others than to be an unrepresented litigant in an American court.

Paternity fraud victims who cannot afford apellate counsel are no more likely to be able to afford trial counsel.

Imagine the defendant enters a government building intended to be intimidating; addresses a judge in a robe on a raised platform, surrounded by a bailiff, clerk, and court reporter; and is opposed by a government-paid lawyer representing the welfare department.

How can anybody think that this is a fair situation for a poorly educated, low-income minority who walks into a courtroom alone?  Anybody who has been in a child support court knows that most are run like a factory assembly line.


The proposed father (who in most cases hasn't even taken a DNA test) is hustled through the formality, often in less than five minutes, and may not even realize what has happened until his paycheck is garnished for child support for a child that may not be his.

The state's direct financial incentive is to establish paternity regardless of actual paternity facts.  In welfare cases, there is almost always only one attorney in the courtroom and that attorney is not representing the paternity target.
 

Defective In-Hospital Paternity Acknowledgements

signingIn-hospital paternity acknowledgements are a cornerstone of government policy and a requirement for any state seeking TANF funds.

This is an example of good intentions gone bad.  If the program was well-designed and DNA testing was done prior to asking a man to sign a "paternity acknowledgment" then this program might work.

However, a program that fails to screen out false paternity establishments scores a temporary statistical victory but causes enormous enforcement burdens and emotional costs to the victims of false establishments.


Hospitals do a good job in making sure that mothers are connected to the right baby.  Footprints are taken, identity bands are placed on both mom and baby, nurseries are staffed and guarded by twenty-four-hour security.

Just as technology exists to protect mothers, DNA testing exists to protect men.  But no in-hospital paternity acknowledgment program is geared toward providing protection for men.  Anyone familiar with in-hospital paternity establishment programs knows that the programs are not geared toward verifying that the right man is identified as the biological father.

Instead, the programs are openly geared toward eploiting the emotinal vulnerability of a man who has come the the hospital solely because he believes that the baby who is there...is his.  The man's presence in the hospital to be with "his" baby is called the "magic moment" and the child support bureaucracy opely exploits it as the best opportunity to get a paternity acknowldgment with no questions asked.

As explained by the United States Department of Health and Human Services:
  • The Experience of States indicates a father of a child born to an unmarried mother is more likely to be present and to admit paternity during the time surrounding the birth than later on...
  • We are not requiring genetic testing for all births as a means of preventing fraudulent acknowledgments...
  • Furthermore, we are not requiring hospital-based programs to offer the option of genetic testing as part of hsopital-based programs.
Men come to the hospital solely because they are led to believe that the baby is theirs.  They are proud, excited, trusting, and will sign the paternity acknowledgment form without first demanding a confirmation DNA test.  From that moment on...actual paternity becomes irrelevant, and the paternity fraud victim is trapped.

Presumed Paternity

dad to beFor centuries, courts followed a rule known as the "presumption of paternity."

This tenet of common law states that unless a man can prove that he is sterile, impotent, or was away from home at the time of conception, he is the legal father of any child born to his wife during their marriage.

The Romans first adopted this rule, and the English incorporated it into common law some 500 years ago.


Despite scientific advances and case law that supports the use of DNA tests as evidence in exonerating the accused, the presumption of paternity remains in practice even today.  Because of this, courts have allowed mothers to commit perjury, assigning paternity to former spouses or, in the cases of those never married, former lovers.

Societies and the laws governing societies have always had an interest in paternity establishment.  Who will be the king, who is born a citizen, who will inherit, etc.  These are all issues that, throughout history, have generated a focus on paternity establishment. At a time when there wasn't DNA testing, it was difficult (if not impossible) to establish paternity and "presumptions" served as the best solution for solving the otherwise unsolvable.  

Presumptions of paternity served a useful purpose at a time when truth could not be obtained.  We now live in a world where the truth is available.  For less than $100.00 we can know with certainty whether a particular man is or is not the father of a particular child.  WAPF Co-Founder Dianna Thompson was quoted in Insight Magazine as saying, "...If DNA is used to free death-row inmates, we must accept it in paternity cases. ..."
military2
As noted by Paula Roberts "...There is a fundamental sense that it is unfair to require a man to support a child with whom he has no biological connection. ..." Without a doubt, old presumptions that were created where the truth could not be known should fall when the truth does become known.  

Many argue that their justification for refusing to grant post-judgment relief from a false paternity establishment all circle back to a claim that it would be unfair to the child (or the the state) to release a victim of a false paternity establishment.  And yet, none of the courts that refuse relief from false paternity establishments is actually talking about maintaining a physical or emotional relationship between the child and the unrelated adult.

Despite all of the references about family, stability, and relationships, the courts focus is solely to enforce financial obligations -- not maintaining a physical or emotional relationship between the child and the unrelated adult. 


Every week, thousands of cohabitating couples or second marriages break up.  Many of these relationships break up after years of family life in with one adult served as a stepparent to the biological children of the other adult.  The law is very clear that when these relationships break up, absent unusual circumstances the stepparents have no financial obligation to the stepchildren.  Even though, in many cases many of the stepparents would voluntarily continue physical and emotional relationships.  

The only difference between a paternity fraud victim and a stepparent is that the paternity fraud victim has been subjected to a lie and, because he was subjected to a lie, some courts seek to deny him the right to end financial support, a right that is uniformly given to exiting stepparents.  Even though he was lied to and a victim or paternity fraud the courts will perpetuate his victimization by imposing financial burdens on him, which stepparents do not bear.  

The talk about preserving relationships as a justification for refusing to vacate false paternity establishments goes against human nature. Our most elementary understanding of human nature informs us that a man who is free to follow his "voluntary will" in persuing a relationship with a child will have a better relationship than a man who is filled with rage and resentment because he continues to make involuntary payments on the basis of a lie.  

Father and Baby DaughterWithout a doubt, forcing a man to emotionally and financially support a child that was conceived through an affair his wife had while married -- or during the time the couple was legally separated is unfair to all involved.

State laws should not force a relationship between a child and an unrelated parent unless the man has agreed to take on this role.  Even so, the child still deserves to know the truth.


Children need to be treated as human beings with a fundamental, moral interest in truth and integrity, rather than a weapon to be used against an innocent paternity fraud victim.  They have the right to know who their biological father is.  Virtually every major social pathology has been linked to fatherlessness; violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, truancy, teen pregnancy, suicide--all correlate more strongly to fatherlessness than any other single factor. 

As to the best interests of a child, it should never be a sufficient legal argument to say that it is in the best interest of any child to perpetuate a fraud.  The child's best and only interest in paternity establishment lies in finding the child's biological father.  That child needs to know his or her genetic heritage for medical purposes.  That child also needs to have the opportunity to establish a relationship with his or her father.

Marital Paternity Fraud

dad to beFor centuries, courts followed a rule known as the "presumption of paternity."

This tenet of common law states that unless a man can prove that he is sterile, impotent, or was away from home at the time of conception, he is the legal father of any child born to his wife during their marriage.

The Romans first adopted this rule, and the English incorporated it into common law some 500 years ago.


Despite scientific advances and case law that supports the use of DNA tests as evidence in exonerating the accused, the presumption of paternity remains in practice even today.  Because of this, courts have allowed mothers to commit perjury, assigning paternity to former spouses or, in the cases of those never married, former lovers.

Societies and the laws governing societies have always had an interest in paternity establishment.  Who will be the king, who is born a citizen, who will inherit, etc.  These are all issues that, throughout history, have generated a focus on paternity establishment. At a time when there wasn't DNA testing, it was difficult (if not impossible) to establish paternity and "presumptions" served as the best solution for solving the otherwise unsolvable.  

Presumptions of paternity served a useful purpose at a time when truth could not be obtained.  We now live in a world where the truth is available.  For less than $100.00 we can know with certainty whether a particular man is or is not the father of a particular child.  WAPF Co-Founder Dianna Thompson was quoted in Insight Magazine as saying, "...If DNA is used to free death-row inmates, we must accept it in paternity cases. ..."
military2
As noted by Paula Roberts "...There is a fundamental sense that it is unfair to require a man to support a child with whom he has no biological connection. ..." Without a doubt, old presumptions that were created where the truth could not be known should fall when the truth does become known.  

Many argue that their justification for refusing to grant post-judgment relief from a false paternity establishment all circle back to a claim that it would be unfair to the child (or the the state) to release a victim of a false paternity establishment.  And yet, none of the courts that refuse relief from false paternity establishments is actually talking about maintaining a physical or emotional relationship between the child and the unrelated adult.

Despite all of the references about family, stability, and relationships, the courts focus is solely to enforce financial obligations -- not maintaining a physical or emotional relationship between the child and the unrelated adult. 


Every week, thousands of cohabitating couples or second marriages break up.  Many of these relationships break up after years of family life in with one adult served as a stepparent to the biological children of the other adult.  The law is very clear that when these relationships break up, absent unusual circumstances the stepparents have no financial obligation to the stepchildren.  Even though, in many cases many of the stepparents would voluntarily continue physical and emotional relationships.  

The only difference between a paternity fraud victim and a stepparent is that the paternity fraud victim has been subjected to a lie and, because he was subjected to a lie, some courts seek to deny him the right to end financial support, a right that is uniformly given to exiting stepparents.  Even though he was lied to and a victim or paternity fraud the courts will perpetuate his victimization by imposing financial burdens on him, which stepparents do not bear.  

The talk about preserving relationships as a justification for refusing to vacate false paternity establishments goes against human nature. Our most elementary understanding of human nature informs us that a man who is free to follow his "voluntary will" in persuing a relationship with a child will have a better relationship than a man who is filled with rage and resentment because he continues to make involuntary payments on the basis of a lie.  

Father and Baby DaughterWithout a doubt, forcing a man to emotionally and financially support a child that was conceived through an affair his wife had while married -- or during the time the couple was legally separated is unfair to all involved.

State laws should not force a relationship between a child and an unrelated parent unless the man has agreed to take on this role.  Even so, the child still deserves to know the truth.


Children need to be treated as human beings with a fundamental, moral interest in truth and integrity, rather than a weapon to be used against an innocent paternity fraud victim.  They have the right to know who their biological father is.  Virtually every major social pathology has been linked to fatherlessness; violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, truancy, teen pregnancy, suicide--all correlate more strongly to fatherlessness than any other single factor. 

As to the best interests of a child, it should never be a sufficient legal argument to say that it is in the best interest of any child to perpetuate a fraud.  The child's best and only interest in paternity establishment lies in finding the child's biological father.  That child needs to know his or her genetic heritage for medical purposes.  That child also needs to have the opportunity to establish a relationship with his or her father.

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