Boston Globe

Measures target 'paternity fraud'

By Robert E. Pierre, Washington Post, 10/20/2002
Boston Globe

LANSING, Mich. - Edward Mack was floored to learn just weeks after his divorce that two of the three children born during his 10-year marriage were fathered by another man. He was even more shocked that the discovery, under Michigan law, meant nothing. A year later, he still pays $375 a month in child support for all three children.

''I don't think it's fair for me to have to take care of somebody else's children when she went out and slept with another man,'' said Mack, 55, pastor of the Spiritual Israel Church & Its Army Temple No. 8 in Detroit. ''I still love the children because it's not their fault. But think about how you would feel.''

In Michigan, as in most other states, children born during a marriage are the legal responsibility of the husband. And even for single men, once paternity is acknowledged or established through the courts, it is next to impossible to change. Prosecutors and many children's advocates contend that is the way it ought to be to keep from unduly traumatizing children by snatching away their emotional and financial support.

But across the country, including in the Michigan Legislature, a push is underway to institute ''paternity fraud'' laws. The new legislation would cancel mandated child support payments, and arrearages, for men who can prove through DNA testing that they are supporting children who are not their flesh and blood. In some cases, the laws would provide criminal penalties for women who willingly lie about the father of their children.

''It's a legal fraud,'' said state Representative James Koetje, a Republican who is sponsoring the legislation that has passed overwhelmingly in Michigan's House of Representatives. ''The state should not condone or perpetuate a legal fiction.''

Advocates of the new laws contend change is needed to prevent the exploitation of men by women who are promiscuous, get pregnant, and then choose a ''father'' from their male acquaintances, often based on money. Some are pushing for mandatory testing in all unmarried births, and before any child support order is established.

They point to studies by groups such as the American Association of Blood Banks, which found in 1999 that nearly 30 percent of 280,000 paternity cases evaluated excluded the alleged father as the biological parent.

''There is an epidemic sweeping this nation,'' Carnell Smith, founder and executive director of US Citizens Against Paternity Fraud, testified before a Michigan Senate hearing recently. Smith said he, too, is a paternity fraud victim and now travels the country seeking legislative reform.

At least 30 states have laws presuming a child born to a married couple is the husband's. He can challenge that presumption in court, but most states have a statute of limitations.

However, Maryland and Ohio for years have allowed men unlimited time to challenge paternity using DNA testing.

This story ran on page A25 of the Boston Globe on 10/20/2002.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.