Courts Try To Define FatherhoodNovember 22, 2009 No Comments
Mike raised a daughter who wasn’t his own for four years. When it was discovered he divorced the mother but still continued to see the girl and pay child support as the biological father was out of the picture.
When his ex-wife and the biological father got married he tried to stop child support. But because he refused to abandon the girl who called him “Daddy” he had to keep paying.
It used to be simple. Whoever a wife popped out was legally considered the husband’s child. Even if he had the red hair of the postman, the child was entitled to all the rights of any other product (Victorian-speak for kid) of the marriage.
Then more people began to have children out of wedlock, so society needed to find a way to make sure they were cared for. Men could sign a birth certificate acknowledging themselves as the father.
Later scientific advancements allowed fathers to test, beyond a shadow of a doubt, whether the child carried their DNA.
The law, always a hop, skip and jump behind both science and society, has tried to keep up. Who Knew I Was Not The Father? explores the complicated ins and outs of American legal paternity.
“I pay child support to a biologically intact family,” Mike told me, his voice cracking with incredulity. “A father and mother, married, who live with their own child. And I pay support for that child. How ridiculous is that?”
Because he continued a relationship with his daughter after he discovered the fraud perpetrated by his ex-wife, the courts say that he relinquishes the right to stop child support.
“The day the results came back was the most devastating day of my life,” Mike said, beginning to cry as he described opening the envelope from the lab and reading there was no chance he was L.’s father. “This little girl,” he whispered, his throat tight, “is not my child. I ran upstairs, locked myself in the bathroom and cried and dry-heaved for 45 minutes. I felt like my guts were being ripped out.”
Abandoning son or daughter raised as your own does reams of psychological damage, both to the parent and the child. When Carnell Smith’s ex-girlfriend told him Chandria was his, he paid child support and spent every weekend with her.
Eleven years later, the ex asked him for more money. So he gave his daughter a DNA test, and promptly disowned her when the results said she was not his. He is using his ex for $40,000 worth of fraud.
“I was just a kid, so I didn’t really understand what happened or why,” she said. “He never did explain why he didn’t want anything to do with me anymore.” Chandria says he wouldn’t answer when she called him at home, or he would promise to call back but never did. Smith says he doesn’t recall Chandria calling him.
She stopped seeing friends and holed up in the bathroom, scratching and picking at her skin until it bled. The more it hurt, she told me, the calmer she felt. Her hair started to fall out, her grades slipped and she had trouble sleeping, details her mother and her mother’s lawyer at the time corroborated. Chandria received counseling at her school and privately for years.
Smith is clearly a heartless man, but the courts basically agreed with his decision. If a man continues to act like a father, by paying for food, housing or spending time with the child, after he discovers that a child is not his then he relinquishes his rights.
This is wrong. It hurts the man and it hurts the kids.
The fathers in this piece are pissed off. Apparently it is in a man’s genetic code to be wary of this exact situation but everyone can understand the anguish they feel.
The villains here are clearly the mothers, but I’m not sure if they should be. Mike’s wife may have been having an affair but she probably wanted the child to be his, desperately. Chances are she didn’t know which tryst led to the conception and it was easier to believe that it was the result of her marriage.
Chandria’s mother also probably contacted the man she thought was the father. Why would she want to burden an innocent guy with the news when she could just have easily gotten the money from someone else?
Dads involved in paternity testing cases seem to believe that a woman has an instinctive knowledge who the father of her child is. Unfortunately biology doesn’t work like that.
No wonder the courts are having trouble, this is not fraud — it is a mess.