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WASHINGTON – More than three years ago, a Maine district court judge ruled that Geoffrey Fisher no longer had to pay child support for a child that wasn’t his.
But that didn’t stop the state from revoking Fisher’s driver’s license and coming after him for thousands of dollars it says he owes in back payments.
Last year, Maine sent Fisher, 35, a letter seeking $11,450 in child support, even though officials know that DNA tests proved he isn’t the father of the child in question.
As the nation experiences an unprecedented increase in unwed motherhood, more men are finding themselves named as “fathers,” for purposes of child support, simply because of their ability to pay, say several recent studies.
It’s called “paternity fraud,” and one state that examined the problem found as many as 30 percent of those paying child support were, indeed, not the biological fathers of the children being supported.
The most recent comprehensive study took place in New Hampshire under the auspices of the Commission on the Status of Men.
The commission found that even men who later were able to prove they were paying support for the children of other men were sometimes still forced by courts and state agencies to continue.
“Paternity fraud is a growing concern for men and children everywhere,” concluded the commission in a report completed in November. “It can spawn considerable grief for the men who may or may not be emotionally attached to a child they later discover was fathered by another; and possibly unsettling for children who may discover the false nature of their paternity.”
The New Hampshire commission took note of the case of Geoffrey Fisher.
Fisher had a brief relationship with a woman eight years ago and when she got pregnant and told him he was the father, he believed her. He began paying child support but eventually fell behind.
In the summer of 2001, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services took him to court because of delinquent payments. The court ordered him to pay up, and the state had his license suspended under the “deadbeat dad” law.
That fall the girl, then 3, was placed in foster care. When Fisher pushed for custody, the state ordered a paternity test, which proved he wasn’t the father.
At that point, one branch of the human services department told him he could no longer see the girl because he wasn’t the father, while another said he owed $10,000 and couldn’t have a driver’s license because he was the father.
Fisher thought the matter resolved when a judge ruled he no longer had to pay child support in January 2002.
But then last spring, the Maine attorney general’s office claimed Fisher still owed support payments for the time from the child’s birth until she reached 3 years old, when tests proved Fisher was not the father.
“Paternity fraud is a growing problem for both men, who should have a higher level of confidence on the paternity of their children, and for the children who need a reliable history of both parents for the maintenance of their physical and emotional health,” concluded the New Hampshire commission.
Carnell Smith, a paternity fraud expert, says that 30 percent of the cases he sampled proved negative.
Like New Hampshire, California has also established a commission to explore the problem, based on reports that 14 percent are being misnamed as fathers. A report is expected later this year.
Florida is about to pass a new law that would end child support if a man proves he’s not the father. Like most states, Florida currently requires that child support – once legally established – continue until the child’s 18th birthday, regardless of who the real biological father is. Eleven states have changed similar laws since 1994.
A new state law took effect in Colorado this year that permits men, for the first time, to challenge his paternity of alleged offspring – at least during the proceedings of a divorce, separation or child-support action. However, once a final order is entered, the new law says, the man is barred from presenting evidence of non-paternity.
But there is also a problem with the way some DNA tests are conducted and analyzed, say experts.
For instance, one physician reported that two unrelated men – one black, the other white – both tested with a probability of paternity at 99 percent for the same child.
“Despite testing facility claims of a 99 percent accuracy rate, all men are at risk, whether it’s through a wrong paternity judgment or paternity fraud,” says Darrin Bush, developer of PaternityTestFlaw.com. “There is a chance that a man can be determined to be the father of a child even if he never had relations with the mother. The deck appears to be stacked against men.”
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