By Chris Kramer
April 12, 2007 — The "Duped Dads" issue has been documented here in the past, and a proposed Missouri child support law would aim to protect men who learn that they are not actually the father of a child after a divorce or breakup and better allow them to contest paying for child support.
A recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch story detailed how Senate Bill 55 would allow men to bring forth DNA evidence at any time to prove that they are not the biological father of the child and thus do not have to make Missouri child support payments. Current divorce law gives men a very limited time to contest paternity following a divorce in Missouri.
For example, Missouri divorce law allows divorced men to contest a paternity finding for only one year. Unmarried men have only 60 days to challenge paternity. The story added that once these time frames expire, DNA evidence is often not enough to dispel paternity obligations.
The story also detailed how current Missouri paternity law assumes that a child born during the marriage is from the father, a notion which blows the mind of this bill's sponsor. Missouri Senator Chris Koster said this law "mocks justice" by pretending that a man is the father of the child even when DNA evidence proves otherwise. He called the current law's deadlines "meaningless" since some men may not learn for a very long time that they are not the father of the child.
The Post-Dispatch detailed the story of Carnell Smith, who said that he grew suspicious after his divorce whether or not he was the father of an 11-year-old girl whom he believed was his daughter with his ex-wife. Smith later learned through DNA evidence that he was not the father of the girl. By that time, he already had paid $100,000 in child support over the years.
While he maintained that he wanted to still have a relationship with the girl, Smith said that he would not pay child support payments anymore. When his ex-wife heard of this, Smith alleged that she would not allow visits.
Proposed Missouri Child Support Law Involving Duped Dads Draws Much Ire!
While Koster crafted this proposed Missouri child support law with "Duped Dads" like Smith in mind, this legislation has drawn much opposition from people who are concerned about its effect on children.
Opponents to this Missouri child support law say that it ignores the emotional relationships and bonds which develop between these "Duped Dads" and the children involved. They thus argue that fatherhood should be defined on not only DNA evidence but also these emotional bonds.
Melanie Jacobs, a law professor at Michigan State University, was quoted in the story as saying that men who've acted as fathers should not be able to disestablish paternity based on biology. Linda Elrod, director of the Children and Family Law Center at Washburn University, expressed her belief that it is "a crime" for a man to contest paternity and Missouri child support enforcement when the child is 12 years old, especially when considering the bonds that have developed.
Jacobs said that she would like to see a two-year deadline to challenge Missouri paternity with genetic tests. She added that courts need to take into account the quality of a parental relationship and the best interest of the child.
Koster described these arguments as ignoring the "fundamental truth" in many cases that these men are not the father and thus should not have to pretend that they are and make Missouri child support payments.
Carnell Smith added his own opinion on the issue, saying how he would like to see a law which would eliminate paternity disputes in the future by mandating DNA tests of all newborns, even when the parents are married.
Koster said the state is not ready for such a law while Elrod rhetorically posed the question of whether having some sad people in the delivery room is better or worse than a father disestablishing paternity and contact with a child some ten years down the line.
Koster's legislation for "Duped Dads" has already cleared the Senate committee but has yet to be debated on the floor, according to the Post-Dispatch story. If passed and signed into law, Missouri would join Ohio, Florida and Georgia as states with similar laws.
Missouri is currently not alone in considering this type of legislation as Colorado and Texas are also doing so this year.