Child support is a means of financial restitution in which a non-custodial parent can contribute to the expenses of raising children produced by a marriage
Child Support Gold-Diggers by Carey Roberts
April 5, 2006 — Laws that protect the fairer sex from rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment all rest on a simple assumption: women who claim to be victims are almost always telling the truth. Maybe it's time to revisit that belief. Three weeks ago the National Center for Men filed a lawsuit on behalf of Matt Dubay, 25, who claims his girlfriend repeatedly assured him that she was unable to get pregnant. When she later bore a child, the state of Michigan went after Mr. Dubay for child support. That's what people used to call entrapment.
But chivalrous pundits rose to defend the honor of this damsel in distress, dubbing Mr. Dubay a "sexual predator," "deadbeat dad," and — horrors! — a "weasel." And if you happen to believe that men should be shouldered with the responsibilities and women enjoy all the rights, their criticisms certainly ring true.
Recently That's Life! magazine polled 5,000 women and asked them if they would lie to get pregnant. Two-fifths of the women — 42% to be exact — said "yes," according to NCM's Kingsley Morse. Yikes!
But that was just a hypothetical survey. Women would never stick it to a man they actually knew. Or would they?
Consider the paternity scam. Here's how it works:
Find any dim-witted man to get you pregnant. Then look up the name of some unsuspecting Joe who's got a steady job — it doesn't matter that you never met the poor bloke. Put his name on the baby's birth certificate.
Now cross your fingers and hope the man is out of town when the sheriff delivers the papers. In California, such default judgments account for 70% of paternity decisions, according to a 2003 study by the Urban Institute.
Or defraud one of your previous boyfriends, assuming he's a good breadwinner, of course. That's what happened to Carnell Smith of Georgia, who willingly assumed financial responsibility for a child, shelling out more than $40,000 in child support over an 11-year period. But when the mother went to court to up the payments, Smith requested genetic testing. That's when he learned, to his great surprise, that he wasn't the girl's father.
Stung by the injustice, Mr. Smith founded Citizens Against Paternity Fraud, a group that works to protect men from being cheated by these modern-day Welfare Queens.
Last year Michael Gilding, sociology professor at Swinburne University in Australia, reviewed studies from around the world, and concluded that 1-3% of children were fathered by someone other than the man who believes he's the daddy.
Let's run the math. Four million children are born in the United States each year. Using the mid-range 2% figure, that means 80,000 men become victims of paternity fraud. [EJF note: And at least 1.4 million (80,000 x 18) men are presently indentured servants for 18 to 21 years.] Yikes again! Ready for the next scam?
This one involves false allegations of domestic violence. Each year, one million restraining orders are issued that serve to evict a person — usually a man — from his own home.
Restraining orders have become so commonplace that family lawyers refer to them as silver bullets, slam-dunks, or simply, "divorce planning." It has been estimated that one-third of those orders are requested as a legal ploy in the middle of a divorce proceeding. Not only are the orders easy to get, in many states a restraining order automatically bans a father from gaining joint custody of his children.
So the restraining order granted on the flimsy grounds that he caused "emotional distress" becomes the woman's meal ticket to many years of child support payments. Prosecutors never go after persons who commit perjury, anyway.
And state welfare agencies don't get upset either, because the federal Office for Child Support Enforcement reimburses 66% of the costs of states' child support enforcement activities. Think of it as a bounty payment for deleting daddies.
So let's see...42% of women admit they would lie to get pregnant. Each year 80,000 non-biological fathers become victims of paternity fraud. And about 300,000 restraining orders are issued in the middle of a divorce.
Assume a father so defrauded finds himself on the hook for $250 a month for each of his children. Over an 18-year period, that comes out to a cushy $54,000, all legally-enforceable, tax-free, and no strings attached.
In the past the American legal system was guided by the rule, "No person shall benefit from their own wrong-doing." But now, hundreds of thousands of women replace that dictum with the self-indulgent excuse: "Get while the getting is good."
Carey Roberts has been published frequently in the Washington Times, Townhall.com, LewRockwell.com, ifeminists.net, Intellectual Conservative, and elsewhere. He is a staff reporter for the New Media Alliance.
My name is Douglas M Richardson from Essexville, Michigan, and I am yet another victim of paternity fraud. However, my story has a bit of a twist, an eye-opening twist. Over fifteen years ago, while going through a divorce, it was brought to my attention by the eldest of two children that his mother had informed him I am not his father. This was about 1 1/2 years into the divorce proceedings. The child at that time was almost 6 years old and living with his mother and her prior boyfriend, whom I had no knowledge of during the marriage. The boy also informed me that his mother had told him the prior boyfriend, and now her live-in lover, was in fact his father.
That revelation began my fight for genetic testing. Throughout the divorce proceedings my ex-wife, in open court, and after being asked by the judge if there was any credibility to my claims, stated on the record she was sure this was my child. Her attorney claimed it was my motivation to disregard the child support that I had voluntarily agreed to pay prior to the divorce being filed. After several attempts and motions the judge agreed to require genetic testing, but the results could not be used in court as evidence and were for medical reasons only.
When my ex-wife found the tests were going to be completed, through her attorney she went to the friend of the court and openly admitted the oldest child was not mine. Through the friend of the court she proposed an agreement that there would be no support or visitation with his or my child. The child in question was then living with his biological father and was well aware of the situation. Her attorney drew up the agreement and even though there were two children of the marriage, one of whom was mine, my attorney told me to go along with this and we could file a motion later to seek visitation for my child.
The judge wanted this agreement brought before the court for signing. However,. at that point he made several capricious changes to the agreement. First, the judge maliciously entered an order to support and carry health care on both children despite the prior agreement. Then he terminated my visitation rights to my child as well. Of course no penalties were imposed on my adulterous ex-wife.
So for the last 15 years, enslaved, I have paid the support for both children while they lived with the father of the first child. Obviously everyone, including the judge, have been fully aware of the fraud since the court entered the order. And, to add insult to injury, her boyfriend (the biological father) sat in the courtroom through the divorce proceedings.
I have since learned that my ex-wife gave a child up for adoption eight months before I met her. The same man was the father of that child as well and wanted nothing to do with that baby.
In April 2001 I received a letter from the friend of the court stating the mother had moved out of the house leaving the children behind, basically abandoning them with this man. At that point the court granted him custody of not only his child but my child as well. The judge also issued an order directing that all payments I make go directly to the biological father of my ex-wife's child. Not only was I paying this man to raise his own child, but my child as well. Further, I was never notified until after this occurred and the court order entered.
When the mother moved out of her boyfriend's home in 2001 she was also ordered to pay the father child support. Thus, her boyfriend was receiving child support from two separate people to raise his own child.
The child is now 20-years old and doesn't even live with his father. But the courts say I have an arrearage of $6,700 that has accumulated over the last 15 years. To date this case, between the support and health care, has cost me well over $150,000.
In 2005 my child moved back in with my ex-wife and on September 19 th the court issued an order for me to pay her child support for our child. However, I was not notified of the custody change or the court order until I received a letter dated January 20, 2006, from the friend of the court, Elizabeth Roszatycki.
As this case stands today, I pay the father, my ex-wife's boyfriend, child support on an arrearage for a child that isn't mine and a child that no longer lives with him. I also pay the mother child support for the second child.
Some ask why I have just paid the support? The answer, though unjust, is quite easy. When the divorce proceeding were over my attorney told me there was nothing I could do, just live with it.
Even though the second child is mine I have tape recorded phone conversations from 1990 of the mother stating that I will never be allowed to have anything to do with either of these children. She stated then that she would simply erase me out of the picture so her, the children, and her boyfriend can go on with their lives as a family. And she did just that with the full support of the courts all the way.
I felt compared to share this injustice with you and can provide documentation on request.
Douglas M Richardson
Essexville, Michigan 48732
Creating Slaves Today, 30% of DNA paternity tests, nearly one in three, prove that the man involved is not the father of the child in question. Currently more than 300,000 such tests are done each year. Since it is unlikely that these paternity tests were done without an underlying reason, almost certainly involving payment of child support, there are thus over 90,000 men who have been falsely accused of paternity each year.
Maybe if we didn't encourage such behavior by enslaving men to pay for it we wouldn't have so much of it? But courts are notorious for continuing child support even when it has been proven the man named is not the biological father. With few exceptions we can assume that on the order of 90,000 men a year are being indentured for onerous payments for a period of at least 18 years in the United States. That would suggest that, at a minimum, 1.6 million men are enslaved today by the courts to pay for other men's children (90,000 men per year for 18 years).
The sample size of 300,000+ DNA tests a year suggests that, as an upper limit, 30% of all children are conceived by a man other than the one named by the mother. With ~4 million children now born each year in the United States, 1.2 million men are likely victims of paternity fraud each year.
It can be presumed that by far the great majority of these deceived men are enslaved by the courts and the mother's lies to support these children until at least age 18. Therefore, as many as 21 million men are indentured today, either by marriage or the courts to pay much of their income for children they have no biological ties to.
From the lower limit of 1.6 million men proven to be current victims of paternity fraud to the upper estimate of 21 million, the middle ground of 10 million men presently enslaved by this fraud appears reasonable. For comparison, there were 3,953,696 slaves in the United States counted in the 1860 census.
Four million slaves in 1860 were the catalyst for a terrible Civil War in which nearly a million men were killed or wounded. Out of that crucible came the lesson enshrined in the Thirteenth Amendment to our Federal Constitution: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
Colorado, as do most states, has similar language. Unequivocally, Article II, Section 26 of the Colorado Constitution states: "There shallneverbe in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." I have no wish to quarrel with that stark dictate. But Colorado judges seem to and tens of thousands of men here are indentured or imprisoned to pay for children not theirs.
A case study of attempted reform
The Equal Justice Foundation is hardly the first, and certainly not the last, to attempt peaceful reform of the felony fraud, perjury, and adultery inherent in false paternity cases. Colorado House of Representatives
To his great credit, Colorado Representative Bill Sinclair (R), a veteran of three wars and serving his last session in the legislature, introduced a bill, HB 04-1083, in 2004 to allow, but not require, men to stop child support payments when DNA testing showed they were not the father of children they were indentured to support. A simple matter of justice and constitutional law you might naively think. But you'd be wrong because you have crassly ignored what the courts and legislators regard as the "best interests of the child."
Now there may be some small fraction of cuckolded men who can maintain a loving relationship with children proven to have been sired by some other man but we don't hear from them. We do hear from many men who have been driven away from what they presumed were their children by vindictive and vengeful women using restraining orders, arrests, and moving away with the children, to say nothing of the irrational acts of family courts.
40% of the hundreds of married men who contact the Equal Justice Foundation for help do so after they find evidence their wives are having an affair. These men are falsely charged with domestic violence or abuse, and suffer the crushing weight of being driven from their homes and children by restraining orders that are handed out by judges like candy. As a result of these all-too-frequently false allegations, women are given the house, the kids, the car, the bank account, very generous child support, and sometimes alimony (maintenance) as a reward for their adultery. And when DNA paternity tests prove he isn't the father, the child support doesn't stop.
Presumably Colorado gives men five years after a child is born to challenge paternity. But commonly the blowup comes when the children are older than five years and up to that point the man, perhaps naively, had faith and trust in his wife.
We also hear of many cases, as did Representative Sinclair, where the man had no idea a child even existed until a child support collection agency began garnishing their wages, sometimes even after the child is grown. A 1996 federal welfare law requires a woman to name a father — no questions asked — when she applies for public assistance, ofttimes many years after her child is born. A paternity notice is often then simply mailed to the man's last known address. For a variety of reasons men often don't get the notice, particularly if they are with our Armed Forces. A default judgement of paternity is then entered.
Commonly we hear the men have never seen the child and knew the mother only briefly, if at all. Almost certainly her child doesn't know the man paying child support. And if you believe the courts or child support collection agencies will stop these support payments simply because DNA paternity tests prove the child isn't his I'd like to make you a wonderful and generous offer on a bridge we own.
Despite the clear injustices, and the unambiguous constitutional mandates, it was a minor miracle that Representative Sinclair's reform bill made it out of committee. More remarkably, the bill passed the Colorado House by a single vote. However, the House heavily amended the bill to yet again leave discretion in the hands of judges to continue the child support, i.e., continue to enslave the man, if they found it was in the "best interests of the child," despite proven paternity fraud.
Colorado Senate Judiciary committee The 'Lectric Law Library's Lexicon On
* Under Color Of State Law *
To act "under color of state law" means to act beyond the bounds of lawful authority, but in such a manner that the unlawful acts were done while the official was purporting or pretending to act in the performance of his official duties. In other words, the unlawful acts must consist of an abuse or misuse of power which is possessed by the official only because he is an official.
Having passed the House, in due course Representative Sinclair's bill was introduced into the Senate and assigned to the judiciary committee. The sponsor in the Colorado Senate was Senator Ed Jones.
The Senate judiciary committee met the afternoon of March 29, 2004. The defeat of the bill in that hearing is instructive for the many individuals who contact the Equal Justice Foundation insisting the laws must be changed and the courts reformed, the Constitution must be obeyed, and why wasn't that done yesterday.
The strongest proponent of the bill on the judiciary committee was the chairman, Senator Jim Dyer (R), who moved that the bill be returned to its original form as introduced by Representative Sinclair. Senator Dyer also noted that the bill wasn't about children or gender and was a simple matter of justice. He strongly urged support of this reform.
The wisdom of the chairman was not reflected in the other members of the committee.
An overarching message from the committee was that a man should never trust his wife about the paternity of her children. It was implied that a man would be especially stupid to wait the full five years allowed under current law to have a DNA paternity test run, at a cost of several hundred dollars we might add. The most vocal proponent of that position was Senator Norma Anderson (R), who put forth the position that husbands should check the blood tests run at the time the baby is born to be sure those weak tests at least suggested he was the father. Senator Anderson seemed unaware that might be difficult to accomplish if the man was in the military and overseas, or he hadn't even been told about the child.
But the committee's position that a man should not trust his wife with regard to paternity certainly further erodes the marriage contract, a contract legislatures have been working so hard to destroy over the past twenty or so years. So at least their position was consistent.
Senator Sue Windels (D) spoke of the "best interests of the child" and how stopping child support would destroy the father/child relationship. I don't know what planet the senator is living on but, when a DNA test shows the man isn't the father: (a) a divorce has already occurred or he wouldn't be paying child support; (b) there is an excellent chance the mother has a restraining order against him or; (c) has moved the kids a thousand miles away. Thus, there isn't any "father" /child relationship left, if there ever was one.
Of course, Senator Windels ignores the fact that it is extremely rare for child support payments in these cases to go to the mother. Almost always the man is required to pay the money to a state or private child support collection agency. Thus, the man is enslaved to support a bureaucracy, not a child.
Senator Ken Gordon (D) argued strongly that it was essential to leave in language that left it to the discretion of the black-robed monsters who all too frequently sit on the family court benches as to whether it was in the man's best interest to stop the child support, or nonsense to that effect. I disagree strongly with Senator Gordon. I do not believe it should be in the power of any man or woman to enslave another, whether they wear a black robe or not. But in the end Senator Gordon voted against the bill even with amendments intact.
Senator John Evans (R) said that even though the child support might continue the man could sue the mother for fraud in these cases. Therefore there was no need for Representative Sinclair's bill. Now stop laughing and pay attention. Apparently there are a couple of cases in Colorado history where this has happened and the man won. That probably was circa 1900. However, there is no evidence the men were able to collect the money they were awarded. But even in the remote instance where a man might win the fraud suit, he would still be left enslaved and paying the child support under color of current law. Am I the only one who sees a problem here Senator Evans?
Punishing men for their wife's adultery
Roughly 12% of men who refuse to pay child support do so because they are not the father. Yet when a man doesn't pay support (indentured servitude) for a child that he has proven is not his progeny, under current law and practice, state and federal governments label him a "Deadbeat Dad," take his passport, drivers and other professional licenses away (making it almost impossible for him to work), and then throws him in jail for contempt of court. That often occurs without a hearing and certainly without a jury trial. A man can get out of prison for murder based on DNA evidence but can't get out of child support payments or jail based on the same conclusive evidence.
Colorado, like many states, is undergoing a budget crisis. But it appears it is cheaper to take an uppity, rebellious slave and throw him in jail for not supporting another man's child, than to offer him justice and freedom. To say nothing of the taxes a free man might pay to support a just state. So we continue to build jails to hold slaves rather than uphold clear Constitutional dictates.
Four million slaves sparked our last Civil War. A conservative estimate shows there are now 10 million men indentured by paternity fraud under draconian court orders from which they cannot escape. Demonstrably, these men have committed no crime of which they were duly convicted.
We argue for peaceful resolution of these injustices but the tides of history may overtake our efforts. As we began, we remind legislators, government executives, and judges that: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
Paternity: Innocence May Now Be A Defense by Wendy McElroy
July 14, 2004 — On June 30, a California man being forced to pay child support for a child he had not fathered got his day in court when the Second District Court of Appeal of California overturned a paternity judgment against him.Los Angeles County, which had imposed the judgment, knew that Manuel Navarro was not the father of the child in question because DNA testing had proved so. Yet under both federal and state child-support laws, the county was still able to demand Navarro pay child support.
The court's landmark decision in Navarro's favor may well become the controlling authority for contested paternity in California and a legal precedent nationwide.
Navarro's case is typical of the false paternity claims and child-support laws that prompt men's-rights activists to condemn the family-court system as being virulently unfair to men.
When an unwed mother applies for welfare in California, the Department of Child Support Services routinely requires her to name the father(s) of her children.
The information provided is often incomplete. Moreover, even though the mother signs a declaration under penalty of perjury, false declarations go unpunished.
In March 1996, Los Angeles County filed a complaint to establish the paternity and child-support obligations of a "Manuel Nava" who had been named as the father of two boys receiving public assistance.
Based on the information the mother provided, authorities determined that Navarro was the father in question and served him with a complaint.
The county says it made "substitute service" of its complaint by leaving a copy of the summons with "Jane Doe," who was identified as Navarro's "sister" and "co-tenant." Another copy was sent by first-class mail.
The complaint would have asked Navarro to file a written denial of paternity within 30 days, as mandated by federal law. Otherwise, fatherhood would be presumed.
Navarro did not respond to the complaint within the 30-day time period — he claims he never received it.
In July 1996, a court judgment established Navarro's paternity and ordered $247 a month in child-support payments.
Penalties for evading child-support payments can include the inability to obtain a driver's license and other business or professional "licenses" such as teaching credentials.
Credit ratings can also be ruined and the State Department may refuse to issue the "deadbeat dad" a passport. Thus, even if the court-ordered support is not garnished from wages, falsely named fathers have powerful incentives to pay up.
In July 2001, Navarro filed a motion to set aside the court's judgment because a blood test proved he was not the boys' father. Although both the federal and state "challenge periods" had long passed, he argued that the mother had committed fraud by naming him.
He also claimed to have never received the original complaint or default judgment. The court denied the motion.
Navarro's case is not unique. For example, in California, in serving child-support judgments, "substitute service," rather than "personal service," is a common practice.
A March, 2003 study prepared at the request of DCSS, Examining Child Support Arrears in California, found that most complaints in California are delivered by substitute service, "which suggests that noncustodial parents may not know that they have been served."
"In Los Angeles County in 2000...79 percent of paternity judgments were decreed by default," father's-rights advocate Glenn Sacks explains. "Most of these men had no idea they were 'fathers' until their wages were garnished."
In an article entitled Injustice by Default: How the effort to catch 'deadbeat dads' ruins innocent men's lives, journalist Matt Welch asked California DCSS Assistant Director Leora Gerhenzon what would happen if a woman had named "Matt Welch" — a white guy between 30 and 40 years old, who maybe lives in the Los Angeles area, as the father of her child.
Gerhenzon answered, "We run our search on him; if we come back with one Matt Welch who lives in L.A., whose birthday fits that 10-year range, and we have nobody else, we presume in general we have the person."
The argument could be made that current laws encourage false-paternity claims. To receive federal funds on child-support orders, states must name the fathers of the children on assistance. Since there is no federal requirement for DNA testing for paternity, there is no state requirement.
Indeed, father's-rights advocates argue that there is an incentive for states to bypass costly testing which might rule out fatherhood. In 2002, former California Gov. Gray Davis admitted that $40 million in federal funds could be jeopardized by widespread paternity challenges.
For this reason, among others, in 2002 Davis vetoed the California Paternity Justice Act, (AB 2240), which would have extended the challenge period and vacated judgments against falsely named "fathers." Women who knowingly signed false declarations of paternity would have been liable for criminal prosecution. (Another factor in Davis' veto was the political pressure of groups like the National Organization of Women, who successfully argued that passing the act would harm children who might lose support payments.)
In hearing Navarro's appeal, the Second District Court acknowledged that "by strict application of the law, appellant should be denied relief...Sometimes even more important policies than the finality of judgments are at stake, however."
The appeals court explained, "the County...should not enforce child-support judgments it knows to be unfounded. And in particular, it should not ask the courts to assist it in doing so. Despite the Legislature's clear directive that child-support agencies not pursue mistaken child-support actions, the County persists in asking that we do so. We will not sully our hands by participating in an unjust, and factually unfounded, result. We say no to the County, and we reverse."
How many falsely named "fathers" could this decision affect?
A study by the American Association of Blood Banks found that "the overall exclusion rate [of paternity on tested men] for 1999 was 28.2 percent for accredited labs."
That figure is undoubtedly higher than what would be found in a random sample of the general population, as men who request tests already have reason to question paternity.
No one knows the real number. What is clear is that courts across North America must follow the Second District Court's lead and exonerate men from false paternity claims.
Wendy McElroy is a fellow of the Independent Institute
Injustice By Default by Matt Welch
February 2004 — Tony Pierce remembers vividly the exact moment in November 2000 when the state of California began trampling on his life. "There was a loud angry pounding at my door at five o'clock in the morning," he recalls. "Very scary."
It was a female police officer with a complaint accusing him of being the father of an 8-year-old girl in Contra Costa County, east of San Francisco. "I'm like, 'Great! I'm definitely not the father of anybody,'" he says.
There were excellent reasons to think so. He had never met or heard of the mother of the child. He had never lived in Northern California, and at the time of conception (spring 1991) he was attending the University of California at Santa Barbara, beginning a monogamous relationship that would last for two years. What's more, he's a condom fanatic — only once in his life, Pierce swears, has he failed to use a rubber during intercourse, and that was "many years after." (He's been a friend of mine for 15 years, and I believe him.) And if the summons had included the mother's testimony (it was supposed to, but did not), he would have seen himself described as a "tall" and "dark" black man named "Anthony Pierce." Pierce is a hair over five feet, nine inches; he is so light-skinned that even people who know him sometimes don't realize he's black; and no one calls him Anthony except his mom.
The front page of the court document gave simple but misleading instructions: "You have 30 days to respond to this lawsuit. You may respond in one of two ways: 1. File an Answer to the complaint with the Superior Court of Contra Costa County, not with the District Attorney....2. Settle the case with the District Attorney. You may call us at (925) 313-4200 to discuss your case." Concluding incorrectly (but understandably) that he could settle the matter over the phone, Pierce called — three times that day — and tried to weave his way through a labyrinthine phone tree. Finally he found a human being, who instructed him to leave a message with a home phone number. The department called him back the next day and left a message; it took another three calls from Pierce before he reached a caseworker for the first time.
"I said, 'What do I need to do? I'm not the father,'" he remembers. "And they were like, 'OK, well this is what you do: You just call in every day, and then we'll understand that you're not it, because if you're it, you're not gonna call us every day.'"
Pierce did everything he was told over the next three weeks of phone tag, except for comprehending that the 30-day deadline for denying paternity in writing was etched in federal law, regardless of what he discussed with Contra Costa employees — who he says never once told him the clock was ticking. "All they were doing was delaying me from doing what I needed to do," he says. "It's a huge scam — huge scam....They're just counting the days. They're like, 'Sucker, sucker, sucker, sucker.'...And this is the government!"
Two months later, after the phone conversations had ended and he assumed he was off the hook, Pierce received notice that a "default judgment" had been entered against him, and that he owed $9,000 in child support. He was between dot-com jobs, and his next unemployment check was 25 percent smaller; the state of California had seized and diverted $100 toward his first payment. Suddenly, he was facing several years of automatic wage garnishment, and the shame of being forced to explain to prospective employers why the government considered him a deadbeat dad. "That's when it hit me," he says. "I mean, it's mostly my fault — 'Fill out the form, dumb-ass!'...But it's so rigged against you, it's ridiculous."
What Pierce didn't realize, and what nearly 10 million American men have discovered to their chagrin since the welfare reform legislation of 1996, is that when the government accuses you of fathering a child, no matter how flimsy the evidence, you are one month away from having your life wrecked. Federal law gives a man just 30 days to file a written challenge; if he doesn't, he is presumed guilty. And once that steamroller of justice starts rolling, dozens of statutory lubricants help make it extremely difficult, and prohibitively expensive, to stop — even, in most cases, if there's conclusive DNA proof that the man is not the child's father.
This stacked deck against accused dads has provoked a backlash movement, triggering "paternity fraud" legislation and related legal challenges in more than a dozen states. Combined with advances in genetic technology, this conflict may end up changing the way we define parenthood. For now, the system aimed at catching "deadbeat dads" illustrates how a noble-sounding effort to help children and taxpayers can trample the rights of innocent people.
Here's how it works: When an accused "obligor" fails, for whatever reason, to send his response on time, the court automatically issues a "default judgment" declaring him the legal father. It does not matter if he was on vacation, [in Iraq or Afghanistan,] was confused, or (as often happens) didn't even receive the summons, or if he simply treated the complaint's deadlines with the same lack of urgency people routinely exhibit toward jury duty summonses — he's now the dad. "In California, you don't even have to have proof of service of the summons!" says Rod Wright, a recently retired Democratic state senator from Los Angeles who tried and failed to get several paternity-related reform bills, including a proof-of-service requirement, past former Gov. Gray Davis' veto. "They only are obligated to send it to the last known address."
In fact, a March 2003 Urban Institute study commissioned by the California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) found that "most noncustodial parents appear to be served by 'substitute' service, rather than personal service, which suggests that noncustodial parents may not know that they have been served." In Los Angeles County, which is notorious for its sloppy summons service and zealous prosecution of alleged fathers it knows to be innocent, nearly 80 percent of paternity establishments come in the form of default judgments. In the state as a whole, which establishes 250,000 paternities a year while collecting $2 billion in child support, a whopping 68 percent of the 158,000 child support orders in 2000 (the last year studied) were default judgments.
Once paternity is "established," even if the government has never communicated with the father, the county court imposes a payment rate and schedule under the statistically mistaken assumption that he makes a full-time salary at minimum wage. (State audits have found that a full 80 percent of default dads don't make even that much.) To collect the money, the county may put a garnish order on the purported father's paycheck or place liens on his assets. If the mother has received welfare assistance after the child was born, the man will be hit with a bill to pay back the state, plus 10 percent annual interest. "That's what they're trying to do, is get some reimbursement to the state," says Carolyn Kelly, public relations officer for the Contra Costa County DCSS. "As you can imagine, [that's] millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars."
If the father falls 30 days behind on his payments, he will be blocked by law from receiving or renewing a driver's license or any "authorization issued by a board that allows a person to engage in a business, occupation, or profession" — a category that includes teaching credentials, fishing licenses, and state bar memberships. If his credit rating was good, it won't be any more. If his past-due tab exceeds $5,000, the U.S. State Department won't issue him a passport. (An average of 60 Americans discover this each day. Meanwhile, Congress has been pushing to cut the limit to $2,500, while urging the State Department to begin revoking passports, which is allowed under the law.)
"When you tell people about the inequities of the system," Wright says, "they're surprised. They go, 'This is America! You couldn't do that!' And I go, 'Yes, you can.'"
Under the guidelines set forth by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, single mothers can receive welfare only on condition that the state take charge of collecting their child support, including unpaid amounts from the past. If the biological father is not paying support, he will be tracked down and hit with the bill. The admirable goal, which statistics show has partially been achieved, was to encourage more responsible sexual behavior by single women, give two-parent families an incentive to stay together, wean recipients off welfare by forcing them to work, and help them find a little extra cash they didn't have before. At the same time, however, the law gave states an explicit mandate and direct financial incentive to name the maximum number of fathers and extract from them the maximum amount of money.
The bottom-line results have been impressive: Since 1993, according to Senate testimony last March by Marilyn Ray Smith, director of the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, child support collection nationwide jumped from $8.9 billion in 1993 to $19 billion in 2001, while paternity establishments more than doubled, from 659,000 in 1994 to 1.6 million just five years later.
But you can read thousands of pages of laws, reports, and testimonies, and not see a single reference to the importance of naming the right guy, or to the gravity of making a mistake. Since Congress first got into the child support business in 1975, the cornerstone philosophy has been to orient everything toward "the best interest of the child," which in practice has meant ensuring that the kid [actually the mother and the State] receives money. Now that the states also have a financial incentive — they pocket a cut of child support payments, earn performance rewards from the federal government, and enjoy the savings from reduced welfare rolls — the cash motive is stronger than ever. California, for example, crunches the numbers every which way: total child support dollars collected per dollar of total expenditure, average amount collected per case, and so on. But nowhere does the state bother to count the number of citizens it has wrongfully named as fathers. The bias is overwhelming, and abuses are inevitable.
Anyone familiar with paternity misestablishment horror stories will tell you that Tony Pierce is a fortunate man. "Oh, he got really lucky," says Taron James, a wrongfully named father who recently founded a group called Veterans Fighting Paternity Fraud. "Mine's going on eight years."
First of all, even at Pierce's current low, entry-level salary, he's rolling in dough compared to most default dads. According to the Urban Institute study, of the 834,000 Californians owing child support in 2001, "over 60 percent of debtors have recent net [annual] incomes below $10,000. Only 1 percent have recent net incomes in excess of $50,000." It's safe to guess that, also unlike Pierce, most don't have good friends who are high-powered lawyers willing to work pro bono. Like obtaining a green card, which is a hellishly complex process navigated disproportionately by the poor, fighting a paternity complaint is nearly inconceivable without legal representation, which Wright says costs a "minimum" of $2,000. "If he can't get the two grand together, you know what?" Wright says. "He's shit out of luck."
Pierce's lawyer, Kim Thigpen, is normally an entertainment attorney, so her crash-course education in family law came as a shock. "I've never seen anything like it," she says. Thigpen was able to get the default judgment set aside — not canceled — on grounds of excusable neglect and mistaken identity, thereby blocking the wage garnishment until the mother and child settled the question once and for all by checking their DNA against Pierce's. Nearly three years and $10,000 in legal expenses later, they're still waiting for the mother to comply. (It was far easier for Contra Costa County to declare Pierce the father from 400 miles away than to compel the local-resident mother to show up for a DNA test.) At the hearing, the county attorney admitted that Pierce looked nothing like the mother's description, a fact that a simple Google search would have easily revealed, since Tony publishes a Web site that includes several dozen pictures of himself.
So how was Pierce fingered? How low is the legal threshold for placing men in the cross hairs of default justice? Both Contra Costa County and the California DCSS refused to discuss the specifics of this or any other case, citing privacy regulations (though Contra Costa's Carolyn Kelly did point out that "if you don't contact us, there's nothing we can do") . But a look at how the process works reveals great potential for error.
Counties typically launch paternity investigations for one of two reasons: Either a parent or custodian directly asks for help in locating a biological parent, or a mother applies for welfare, which now is reported to the local child support system. If the mother was unwed, says California DCSS Assistant Director Leora Gerhenzon, "you ask about when you became pregnant, why you believe that date is correct, whether or not the father was named on the birth certificate, has the father seen the child,...does the father provide for support, has he ever lived with the child,...a Social Security number....It's a half-hour [interview], or even an hour and a half to two hours."
What if the only information the mother provides, I ask Gerhenzon, is that it was 10 years ago, with a white guy named Matt Welch, now between 30 and 40 years old, who maybe lives in the Los Angeles area?
"In that case, now it depends," she says.
"We run our search on him; if we come back with one Matt Welch who lives in L.A., whose birthday fits that 10-year range, and we have nobody else, we presume in general we have the person. If we come back with three Matt Welches, all of a sudden we know there's a problem. We have to call her back in, or call her on the phone, and say 'OK, here's what we've pulled up. We need more help from you to identify which is the correct [one].'"
So a name, race, vague location, and a broad age range is sufficient to launch a process that could quickly lead to a default judgment, asset liens, and a blocked passport? "Right. Right," Gerhenzon confirms. "If it's clear that she's given us enough identifying information to come up with one discrete name, we would go ahead." Wouldn't that make people with unusual names easier targets? "Absolutely."
In addition to a low threshold for accusing men of paternity, the system lacks penalties for naming the wrong father. Mothers sign their declarations under penalty of perjury, Gerhenzon says, but neither she nor anyone else I talked to for this article could recall a single case where a mother was charged with a crime for naming the wrong man. In fact, until recently California hasn't had any way to see whether a woman had named different candidates in different counties. Asked how a caseworker might respond after discovering such a disparity, Gerhenzon says, "I think in all likelihood they would confront the custodial parent with both names, and say, 'Who is the appropriate parent?'" For both the mother and the state, the punishment for making a mistake is indirect, in the form of receiving less child support. (The state is much less successful in collecting from default dads, on average, and the wrongly named defaults surely pay the least.)
So how many default judgments catch the wrong guy? Nobody knows. Paternity reform activists point to a 2000 study by the American Association of Blood Banks that found 30 percent of the 300,000 paternity DNA tests conducted at accredited centers nationwide excluded the father. But the actual percentage of wrongfully named default dads is certainly much lower, since these samples come largely from people with doubts about paternity (as opposed to real deadbeat dads, who have considerable reason to avoid a DNA test).
Whatever the number, the state of California recognizes misidentification of fathers as a serious problem. "Some default orders are expected," reported the Urban Institute, "but a default rate of 71 percent statewide indicates that something is terribly wrong." In its study, which addressed the collectibility of California's $17 billion in outstanding support, the Urban Institute's No. 1 recommendation was to "reduce default orders." The DCSS now has a Default Work Group, established at the behest of former Gov. Davis after he vetoed one of the reform bills, that is preparing recommendations for reducing the rate.
"What we have done in the past is sped up many of these defaults," Gerhenzon says.
"And they were penny-wise and pound foolish, maybe, to go ahead and get quick orders.... And what we've certainly learned through our collectibility study, and...through general customer service, is that it is far, far better to get the right parent up front....In cases where we actually, because of the default, have the wrong parent, we end up collecting a whole lot less money."
Innocence Is No Defense
The systems for establishing paternity and providing child support are replete with legal deadlines that vary from state to state. Besides having 30 days to respond to a paternity complaint, an accused father in California has 180 days to contest a child support order and two years from birth to challenge paternity using DNA evidence (unless he has signed a voluntary declaration of paternity in the hospital under the federal government's new Paternity Opportunity Program, in which case he has just 60 days). If, for whatever reasons, any of these deadlines aren't met, no amount of evidence can move the state to review the case; the DCSS has to be sued. Unlike capital murder convictions, which are being overturned around the country because of DNA evidence, family court cases typically hew to the "finality of judgment" principle to prevent disruptions in children's lives. Or, in the words of former California legislator Rod Wright, "It ain't your kid, you can prove it ain't your kid, and they say, 'So what?'"
That's how a man like Taron James could be slapped with a support bill for thousands of dollars from Los Angeles County in 2002, and continue to be barred from using his notary public license, even after producing convincing DNA evidence and notarized testimony from the mother that her 11-year-old son, whom he's seen exactly once and looks nothing like, is not his child and that she no longer seeks his support. James says his name was placed on the child's birth certificate without his consent while he was on a Navy tour of duty; then the mother refused to take blood tests for eight years, and he became aware of a default order against him only when the Department of Motor Vehicles refused to issue him a driver's license in October 1996. By that time, James had missed all the relevant deadlines, the court was unimpressed with his tale of woe, and he has since coughed up $14,000 in child support via liens and garnishments.
"I contact Child Support Services, and their whole thing is, 'Take us to court. You don't like what we're doing, take us to court,'" he says. "Whether or not you're the biological father doesn't matter — if someone's got your name, and you've...failed to participate in the court date, then you have an obligation to pay child support, period."
Needless to say, taking DCSS to court is expensive (James says he's already run up legal bills of $4,000), and success isn't likely. To add insult to injury, even if you win, you won't get any of your money back.
State bureaucrats say their hearts bleed, but rules are rules. "We are obligated by law to enforce the order," says California DCSS's Gerhenzon.
"We have no ability not only to stop enforcement of our own, but not to proceed with doing everything we can to get child support in this case, because we have to enforce the legally established order. The recourse is to get that order set aside, or overturned."
When judicial systems enthusiastically enforce rulings they know to be unjust, it's a surefire formula for creating activists. After writing scores of letters to politicians and conducting endless Internet searches, James and his girlfriend, Raegan Phillips, hooked up with a national group called U.S. Citizens Against Paternity Fraud, founded by a Georgia engineer named Carnell Smith. Smith paid more than $40,000 in support over 11 years to an ex-girlfriend's child he assumed to be his, until she requested more money in 1999. He then took a DNA test and discovered he wasn't the father, but the court ordered him to pay $120,000 anyway. Enraged, he launched Citizens Against Paternity Fraud and began lobbying the Georgia legislature to change laws that limited the admissibility of DNA tests. In May 2002, the effort passed, so now at least some default dads in Dixie — those who have never adopted their children or officially acknowledged paternity — can overturn support orders using DNA evidence, regardless of how much time has elapsed. In March of last year, under the new law, Smith's personal support order was finally overturned.
Similar laws have passed in Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, Arkansas, and Alabama; others are working their way through statehouses in Texas, New Jersey, California, Florida, Michigan, Vermont, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, courts across the country are trying to redraw the legal lines of paternity now that genetic testing and welfare reform are colliding with 500 years of common law tradition, which has presumed that all children born in a marriage are the husband's responsibility, whether or not he is the biological father. In May 2003, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that men who have admitted paternity, even if the mother lied to them, are not allowed to introduce DNA evidence to challenge support orders. Carnell Smith has been trying to push the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, so far without success.
Although paternity fraud activists are beginning to gain traction, they face formidable obstacles. The Welfare Reform Act is largely a popular success. More two-parent families are staying together, more single mothers are entering the work force, and child support collections have doubled. By just about any measure, these trends are in the best interests of the affected children. In Massachusetts 18 years ago, for example, women had a miserable rate of success (around 10 percent) in suing for paternity, according to Marilyn Ray Smith, the state's chief child support enforcer, and genetic tests were inadmissible except to disprove paternity. For single mothers and their children, the legal climate obviously has changed much for the better.
Which helps explain why so many feminist groups and politicians have dug in their heels to block paternity reform bills. Considered in zero sum terms, any change that prevents some unjustly named fathers from supporting kids they didn't sire reduces the amount of money children and single mothers receive while increasing states' welfare payouts. Child support advocates also worry, with some reason, that narrow-sounding legislation aimed at preventing obvious injustices may become a Trojan horse for men who change their minds about the responsibilities of fatherhood. But that's rarely how the issue is presented. Women's groups usually argue that fatherhood cannot be measured by DNA alone — a disingenuous stance, considering the thousands of men who pay for kids they've never lived with.
"What makes a father?" California state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) said in an August 2002 interview with the Los Angeles Times, explaining why she was voting against Rod Wright's latest reform bill. "This bill says the donation of genetic material makes a father. I don't agree."
Kuehl, a former family law attorney who cosponsored a law that reworked California's child support system in 1999, has been the single biggest opponent of paternity-related reform bills in the state, to the point where activists like James and Phillips refer to her as "Sheila Cruel" and are planning demonstrations outside her office. Kuehl refused repeated requests to comment for this article. "She says it's not her issue," a spokeswoman told me. "She's not interested to talk about it."
Wright, who considers Kuehl a friend, says he tried several times to sway her with individual stories of innocent victims who'd been trampled by the current system. "Sheila said to me one day in a hearing room: 'You know, I understand that, through the convergence of science and thousand-year-old common law, we have to work toward a kind of balance. And I side with the kids; I don't really care about this guy.'" Wright chalks it up to the prevailing political winds. "If this was a case where women could be charged similarly," he says, "Sheila would be all over this like a cheap suit. It's really a case where it becomes a guy vs. a child. So it's like, 'Well, screw the guy.'"
Paternity activists argue that the best interests of the child should include, among other things, knowing who her real biological father is, so she can have accurate medical information. And every day the wrong man is on the hook, they point out, is a day not spent finding the real father.
"They have failed her," Tony Pierce says of Contra Costa County's effort on behalf of his supposed daughter.
"If they're in it to feel good about themselves and to go to heaven because they're fighting for women — no, they're going to hell, because they have not found this woman's father, and they have tried to fuck me over....What they should have said right away is, 'Hey look, this isn't the guy; let's get the [right] guy.'"
Every child support official I talked to was sensitive to the criticism and eager to discuss many past and future reforms aimed at reducing the number of default judgments, humanizing the system, and even (in the words of Contra Costa County's Kelly) eliminating the word deadbeat from their vocabulary. "This is a tough area," California DCSS's Gerhenzon says. "When you have bad results in these situations, they are tough on everyone involved in the process: the parents, the legal parents, the child, the system. It is to everyone's benefit not to have these cases come up."
But as long as state and federal laws remain as they are — with low evidentiary thresholds for issuing paternity complaints, no proof of service required, the presumption of guilt in default cases, a series of short legal deadlines beyond which paternity becomes extremely difficult to challenge, and financial incentive for the government to keep naming dads and extracting money — these cases will continue to come up. "I can see how so many men could be totally screwed right now," Pierce says. "You know, I was educated, I had a good job, I'd never been involved with the cops before, I had nothing to fear, nothing to run from. But still, I got tied into it....I can see where this stuff could create many victims."
Victims like Taron James, who lost at least two jobs while putting his life on hold for eight years so he could fight a judgment that should have never been made. "I'm a veteran — I fought for and defended my country," James says, sitting in a Torrance, California, park down the street from his great aunt's crowded house, where he lives with his girlfriend and splits his time looking for work and driving to Sacramento to lobby legislators. "To be treated like this is ridiculous....Right now, I'm fully disgusted with California and the United States for allowing this to go on after I put my hind end on the line."
Note: The print edition of this article incorrectly stated Raegan Phillips' name and one detail about Taron James.
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