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Paternity Justice Act of 2002 Had Little to Do with Justice
October 29, 2002
by Kirsten Tynan

Glenn Sacks and Dianna Thompson in their editorial California Governor Davis Preserves and Protects Paternity Fraud, decry the veto of California's Paternity Justice Act of 2002 (AB 2240). They write that "Instead of justice, Davis chose money." I don't question their assessment of Davis' motivations, but the association of California AB 2240 with the concept of justice concerns me greatly.

My concern stems primarily from two provisions in the bill as it was passed by both the Assembly and the Senate in August. The bill explicitly states that the man who has been defrauded by the mother and has been injured by the enforcement of her fraudulent claim "has no right to reimbursement from the mother, the state, or the local child support agency, for any amount of support collected prior to the granting of the motion." Neither the woman who lied about vital information to the presumed father, nor the system which blindly enforced her fraudulent claims against him, would be held accountable.

Rather, unsuspecting men who have had no contact with and perhaps even no knowledge of the child would suddenly find themselves faced, in addition to their current obligations, with a hefty debt to the presumed father. The presumed father would be entitled to reimbursement from the biological father for the amount of child support paid, court and attorney's fees to collect that money, and, in some cases, even the cost of future support of a child which the biological father has never known. And there is no provision ensuring that payment of that support would be complemented by any legal right to contact of any sort with his child.

But Sacks and Thompson seem to endorse the supposed solution proposed by this Act: "If Davis had signed AB 2240, children of falsely identified fathers would not have been deprived of support. Mothers in these cases would do what they should have done all along: disclose the true identity of their children's fathers so the state can then approach them to establish paternity and pay child support."

It doesn't sound too bad when it's described that way. In fact, it sounds rather calm, orderly, and rational. But history suggests that these fathers would not likely be approached in a just and reasonable manner. That's simply not how the state works. This bill would have loosed the mad dogs of the legal system on unsuspecting men who, through no fault of their own, may have had no way of knowing they were fathers. Certainly many, if not most of them, could not afford to reimburse many years of child support paid by another man. A whole new class of "dead broke" dads would have become entrenched in the system as lawyers and government officials raked in fees. And those men trying to recover their expenses would likely have been left to pick up the crumbs left after the lawyers and bureaucrats took their cuts.

Sacks and Thompson detailed the plight of dead broke dads in their column 'Deadbeat Dad' Raids Won't Fix Child Support System. They wrote about how fathers in Oklahoma were jailed by the hundreds for nonpayment. They revealed how the system is set up such that states have an incentive "to grab and hold every dollar they can, even if it is collected in error." They discussed how the unemployed and disabled find their already unpayable debts exacerbated by interest and penalties.

In many paternity fraud situations, the biological father has already suffered the injuries of having been lied to by the mother of his child and having missed out on that child's irreplaceable years growing up. Is there any reason to believe that he would be treated any better at the merciless hands of the government than those fathers Sacks and Thompson sympathized with in September?

And what of the mother who has deprived the biological father of his child and deprived the child of his or her natural father? Why is the person responsible for perpetrating the fraud upon both the originally presumed and biological fathers as well as the child explicitly shielded from financial responsibility? Where is the justice in ignoring her deliberately fraudulent part in the very painful entanglement of finances and human lives which she has created?

Paternity fraud is a problem which must be addressed, but AB 2240 would have at best relieved one victimized man's burden at the expense of another while leaving the responsible party untouched. Advocates now have the opportunity to craft and support a measure which does not sacrifice one man's life in favor of another's.

Kirsten Tynan is an ifeminist and can be reached at ktynan@seds.org.

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