Time Magazine detailed a complicated issue last week in which "duped dads" learn during a relationship, in a marriage, or after a divorce that they are not the fathers of their children, and raised some important questions about how states should react to such situations.
Specifically, should a father be allowed to walk away from financial obligations like child support if a paternity test shows that he is really not the child's dad, and should there be a time limit for a father to challenge his "dad status" with a paternity suit? Or should the father act in the best interest of the child, especially if he has been already serving as the minor's father for years?
The Time article examined a case in Colorado in which now 36-year-old Dylan Davis learned after his 2000 divorce that he was not the biological father of his 6-year-old twins. Davis had to give up partial child custody of the twins as a result of the negative paternity test.
State law still requires Davis to pay $663 a month in Colorado child support even though he has had no contact with the girls since his ex-wife moved to another state. Davis has lobbied to the Colorado legislature to change the statute so that he and other "duped fathers" won't be held financially accountable for children who are proven not theirs in paternity suits.
According to the Time article, fathers' right groups in Illinois and West Virginia are pushing for similar legislation that would remove or extend time limits for challenging paternity. Last year, Florida joined the ranks of Georgia and Ohio as states allowing deceived fathers to walk away from child support obligations regardless of how long they had been acting as a minor's father.
While advocates of fathers' rights groups feel that these men are the victims of paternity fraud and should be protected, opponents to such pieces of legislation are concerned about the best interests of a child. For example, opponents worry how children will react when not only learning that their dad really isn't their dad but also seeing that man completely remove himself from their lives.
In the Time article, Temple University law professor Theresa Glennon said this issue perpetuates the stereotype of the "duped dad vs. the scheming wife" and is "really about men deserting children they have been parenting." She also added that severing paternal ties would devastate children.
State courts have dealt with this delicate balance between fathers' rights and the best interests of involved children and have come up with different decisions. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined in May 2006 that a court can not consider a child's best interests when a father requests a DNA paternity test. The New Jersey Supreme Court is currently debating whether a "duped dad" can sue the biological father for child support reimbursement.
Other states have determined that fatherhood may be defined in other terms than having the same genes. Oklahoma adopted a law in 2006 which limits the time frame for a father to request a DNA paternity test to a few years after the birth of the child.
According to the Time article, Oregon activists are planning to introduce two competing bills this session related to this issue. Both bills would allow a man to contest paternity within a year of learning that he is not the biological father, while only one of the bills would consider the child's best interests. Under this bill, a court would consider a child's interests when a nonbiological father decides to stick with his financial obligations and maintain parental status.
This Time article truly reveals the delicateness of this issue, and also teaches an important lesson: parental decisions-whether good or bad, selfish or selfless-will most often affect the children involved.