Voices

Daddy duped

Paternity fraud is yet another assault on the "one man, one woman" cultural contract

Issue: "California's wall of fire," Nov. 8, 2003

THE U.S. CENSUS BUREAU RECENTLY RELEASED numbers showing that married-couple households make up only half of American families, down from 80 percent in the 1950s. The aging of the population and an increase in the average age at marriage are factors in that decreased percentage, but so are attacks on marriage: divorce, same-sex unions, and cohabitation.

If thinking of those problems doesn't depress you, here's another cause for the traditional "one man, one woman" cultural contract going the way of an endangered species-the phenomenon of "father shopping," a.k.a. "daddy duping" or "paternity fraud." To wit, what to do with cases (multiplying faster than blastocysts) in which this one has been sleeping with that one, and so that one isn't sure if the baby is his, and if someone else is the father, why should he pay?

These lawsuits are "already a defeat" for our nation, to borrow from Paul (1 Corinthians 6). Mommies and daddies duke it out in court, with children the collateral damage. "Why not rather suffer wrong?" the apostle once asked. Good question. The whole business is so pit-bull ugly that to split hairs about who is more right than whom in the argument is to bury the lead. The lead is this: "America Plunges Headlong into Debauchery."

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One is reminded of the impassioned plea for justice by the Samaritan woman who accosts the king of Israel during a famine (2 Kings 6). When the king asks, "What is your trouble?" the woman launches into a logical self-justification as to why she should be entitled to eat her neighbor's son today since her neighbor shared her own son's carcass with her yesterday. The king in horror tears his clothes and dons sackcloth.

Nevertheless, after the hand-wringing we must deal with things as we find them, setting legal ground rules for our own cultural cannibalism. In the old days there was something called "presumption of paternity," born of English common law, and serviceable enough for 500 years but now run aground like a sledge in the muck of modern depravity. One no longer presumes that the woman one is married to, or dating, is the bearer of one's child. "Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms" (Micah 7:5).

For odds are getting better that she is engaging in conjugal trysts with two or more men and then fingering the most promising prospect when it comes time for child support. (In 30 percent of 280,000 paternity blood tests, the man tested is not the biological father, according to a 1999 study by the American Association of Blood Banks.)

In spite of this trend, and although DNA testing would settle paternity claims conclusively just as it routinely exonerates those falsely accused of murder, states have been slow to abandon the blunt instrument of Saxon law for the precision of high technology. Alaska, Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio, and only a few others have passed paternity fraud bills, allowing the genetic test. Courts are still able to force men who have certified proof that they have not sired a child to pay the child's support nonetheless, and none of the 50 states has laws requiring that a woman disclose uncertainty of paternity.

A year ago, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed the California Paternity Justice Act. It would have extended by three years a man's opportunity to challenge paternity in so-called "default judgments," which account for 70 percent of all paternity judgments in L.A. County and in some states. These are unfortunates whose names were picked by some woman and who didn't show up to a "paternity hearing." They often didn't know what hit them till monetary judgments were levied, and then missed the statute of limitations for challenging those.

One wonders: Is the resistance to reform explainable by something as banal as physical inertia, or are more venal forces at work? Dianna Thompson, Executive Director of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, suggests we follow the money, explaining that "under federal guidelines, states must identify the fathers of children whose mothers are receiving benefits or risk losing federal incentive money."

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker makes another suggestion, which I note alongside the detail that among those arrayed against California's vetoed law was the redoubtable NOW: Many politicians do not challenge laws that "defend the action of lying and fraudulent women" because those politicians hope to "maintain the support of the feminist movement and also procure more of the female vote."

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