Friday, March 08, 2013

Owing for another man's baby

A Virginia man owes 13 years of child support for a child that isn't his, and federal law prevents reversing the debt. The local TV station reports:
In court, the judge explained that there are "certain aspects of the law that seems grossly unfair."

"Unfortunately the law is the law, my message to everybody is if you're unsure, about you being the father of the child, do not sign that birth certificate - that's a well lesson learned," said Parsons.
Okay, I am posting the judge's advice, for what it's worth. The law is a little silly because usually it is the mom who knows for sure, not the dad. The mom should be signing the birth certificate with the name of the dad.

Better yet, the birth certificate should just say "alleged father" until there is a DNA test.


Anonymous said...

Those links were pretty interesting. You should've included more of the details, one of which is that either the mom can forgive the debt or the child support agency can make an offer in compromise on behalf of the state. Also interesting is that the judge only ordered $1/month paid on the arrearage, with no interest.

This brought back memories of the DCSS, and before that the D.A. (prior to welfare reform, circa 1996). Maybe I'll write those up over the weekend.

Anonymous said...

My first experience with this topic was back in the 1990s, before welfare reform. I had a child out of wedlock. He was born exactly nine months after the one and only time his mom and I had sex. I never slept with her or spent the night with her. I saw him in the hospital when he was two days old and he had a facial feature a lot like mine.

I looked up the law about legitimacy and found that in California, if a man takes a child into his home and holds him out in public as his own child, then the child is considered legitimate. So I did that.

After I told my parents about my son, they visited his mom because my mom, at least, was irresistably curious. Over the course of a few months, my mom and my son's mom agreed that he should have my last name. This wasn't a detail I was obsessed with, but I went along. Again I looked up the law and found that if a man acknowledges paternity within one year, then a child's surname can be changed to match the father's without any court proceeding and a new birth certificate will be issued. So we did that.

Also her mom was curious about me and engineered some reason for me to come over to pick up a bag or something. She remarked on that particular facial feature and said now she could see where it came from, because no one in their family had that. I never had any particular doubt that he was my child. Many people saw my son and me together on the street or in a store and smiled or laughed because we looked so much alike. It never occurred to me to get a paternity test.

Somewhere along the line, my son's mom's women friends told her that the D.A.'s office gave free paternity tests, and she passed on this advice to me. I suppose she felt guilty about telling me she'd been on a birth control pill and wanted me to be reassured that he really was mine. Even though I didn't have any particular doubt, I followed up by calling the D.A.'s office.

The first time I called, I was referred to the child support department and a really snippy bitch either hung up on me or refused to give me a straight answer to my simple question. So I called back and told the receptionist I wanted to talk to the D.A. himself or else I was going to come down in person. This was pre-9/11 -- maybe if I did this in today's environment I'd still be in Leavenworth prison twenty years later for making a terroristic threat, even though I wasn't making any threat other than to give him a piece of my mind face to face about how his staff treated a member of the public.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately, the receptionist put me through to the deputy D.A. who was the head of the child support department (not the top elected D.A., but that turned out to be ok). This was a man, and we had a very frank and informative conversation. He said certainly they'd pay for a paternity test and if I turned out to be the father, then I'd have to pay them back. This was before DNA testing was so cheap, so they did it with a blood test, and he said it wasn't any fun getting blood from a six-month-old baby. Then he told me they only sued fathers when their children turned up on public assistance and quoted me the welfare amount for one child and said that as long as I paid at least that much to the mom, then they would never take any interest in my case. I don't remember the amount, but I was already giving her more, because I knew I made more than she did.

Based on what he told me and what I knew already, we never got a paternity test. My son is grown up now and still looks like me, except for being better looking overall.

The federal statutory changes around welfare reform in 1996 resulted in California establishing local child support agencies called the DCSS separate from the elected D.A.'s office. Also they provide that the DCSS will take anybody's case, not just cases involving public assistance. Now there are so many such cases that the law provides for a separate court and a separate magistrate just for those. Also the law provides that in a DCSS case, child support orders are always enforced through wage garnishment involving the obligor's employer even if the obligor is totally compliant and has no record of nonpayment. That's your federal tax dollars at work.

The DCSS motto is, "Every dad a deadbeat." They still have snippy chicks who won't answer a straight question from any voice below middle C, although I must admit eventually talking with an ombudsman once who seemed sincere.

George said...

Now they can do DNA tests from saliva or cheek swabs, and they are getting cheaper all the time. It is a little tricky getting a useful amount of saliva from a toddler, so I don't know what they do exactly.

Anonymous said...

One of my cousins was in love with a woman who got pregnant by a married man. So he married her. They raised that kid as their own and had another one. The kids are grown and the parents are still married.

Different states have different rules about when paternity can be challenged even when the putative parents were married or the father has already voluntarily acknowledged paternity. Usually a challenge can be made the first time a case is adjudicated. The case in the article had already been to court previously for the guy to have run up a $23,000 arrearage before finding out later that he wasn't the biological father.

George said...

The crazy part of the law is expecting the man to identify himself as the father. The mom knows, and the DNA lab knows, but not the man. Sure, you can notice a facial resemblance but so can anyone else.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the mom knows and sometimes how can she be sure? She may want to believe, and deny the obvious. Don't we all do that in some part of our lives?

The court wants two parents to take responsibility and shoulder the burden. Plenty of people adopt children. Should they be able to opt out part way along and say, it's not my biological child, let someone else (ex-wife or society at large) pay from now on?

What's sad is that a lot of guys -- I mean obligors -- don't get the system. If there's a change in circumstances, either side needs to file for a modification on the same day. Was he $23,000 in arrears because he was a resister or because he was broke and didn't ask the court for a break sooner? In Santa Cruz I saw a farmworker making $12,000/year from seasonal labor with a child support debt of $27,000. Great if it's really his kid, right?

George said...

99% of the time, the mom is 100% sure. If she is not sure, she can say so and ask for a DNA test.

Adoption is okay with me, but I say that the kid has a right to have his biological parents on his birth certificate. With today's DNA technology, he is likely to eventually find out anyway.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, George. Maybe you should buy some DNA testing and find out this was all a bad dream.

If anyone wants a test, get a test. If they don't, then don't. Why should someone be let out of an agreement part way down the road due to a detail that wouldn't even concern plenty of other folks? What about the child's interest -- this guy pretended to be my dad until he found out something and now he doesn't care about me at all.

Also, there are these cases where babies got switched and even the moms don't know their child doesn't have their DNA. Should they just hand the kid off and get busy fulfilling their heart's desire by making a genuine one?

George said...

Normally, the law does not encourage fraud. If the agreement was fraudulently obtained, then the man should be able to get out of it. That's how other legal agreements work.

Yes, sometimes the man takes the mom's word for it when she says that he is the only one who could be the father, and he does not ask for a DNA test. Trust is great, if people tell the truth. If she is lying, then she is committing paternity fraud.

Accidental baby switches are very rare. I have not even heard of one in many years.

Anonymous said...

Actually, if a woman finds out the hospital switched babies accidentally, there will be a multi-million dollar payout. It doesn't matter if she bonded with the wrong baby or not before she discovered the truth. It is only men who are told true parenthood is not important, that it is the bond with the child that matters and nothing else. So, shut your mouth and pay; pay; pay.

An old friend says: "Talk is cheap when you are telling someone else what to do."

Anonymous age 70