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Clearing up the paternity process

This is one gutsy Democrat - I applaud him. A call to his office might be
appropriate. (And thanks to the Sacramento Bee for giving him equal time.)

The Sacramento Bee
Friday, July 12, 2002

Opposing view: Clearing up the paternity process
by Roderick D. Wright -- Special To The Bee

While I agree with the editorial's title, "What is fatherhood? / It's more
than biology - much more," fatherhood also should be more than a wage
garnishment from a man to support another man's child.

Take the case of Steven. He, his wife, Nancy, and two children lived in a
modest home in Thousand Oaks. He was a manager for a biotech firm and his
wife did volunteer work. Imagine the shock when he received a notice from
Los Angeles County declaring him the father of a child and informing him
that he was seven years and more than $80,000 in arrears on child support.

The support notice was also mailed to his employer. More than half his
salary was attached, a lien was placed on his home, his bank accounts
levied, his driver's license suspended and a negative mark placed on his
credit report.

Steven's former girlfriend Donna had named him the father of her child.

The paternity hearing notice was mailed to his previous address (the only
address she knew). Personal service (being handed a subpoena in person) is
not required in paternity cases. It took Los Angeles County seven years to
find him. Because he did not answer the default judgment within the six
months allowed (since he had no idea it existed), he has no legal recourse
to challenge it. He discovered his rights after paying more than $10,000
in attorney fees. He knew by the age of the child that he was not the
father and a DNA test would have confirmed it, but he was too late under
the law to do anything about it.

He lost his job and home, and separated from his family so they could
qualify for welfare. Donna acknowledged that Steven might not be the
father and sought a DNA test for closure. However, the district attorney
successfully blocked the change in paternity to protect the state's
financial interest because Donna had been collecting welfare.

The tally: One broken home, three children on welfare, two adult lives
destroyed. Such is the status of California family law.

AB 2240 would give judges discretion to review such cases and determine
the appropriate remedy.

The Bee is naive to think a man who is having his check garnished for a
child who is not his own would develop an emotional bond with the child.
Most likely, he has never met the child. It is not really an issue of
fatherhood, but of money. In most cases, this is money that reimburses the
state since the vast majority of these men do not earn enough to cover the
welfare, food stamps and Medi-Cal paid by government assistance.

Challenging paternity in California costs a minimum of $2,000.
Additionally, if the man thought the child were his, what would be the
point of fighting? To establish false paternity, either fraud or a mistake
had to have happened. While the court can garnish wages, it cannot prevent
the truth from coming to light. Once the truth is known, allow the mother,
the accused father and the child to decide what, if any, relationship they
may wish to maintain.

Why should the actual father escape his responsibility? Several states
have adopted variations of DNA challenges to their family law codes. They
all have higher child support collection rates than California and spend
far less in court proceedings.

A man who knows a child is his more likely would maintain a relationship
with the child and pay support than a man who is not sure. In Los Angeles
County, 78 percent of paternity cases are settled by default judgments at
which the man was not present. Nationally, in more than 30 percent of
contested paternity cases a DNA test has proven the accused man is not the

AB 2240 would not make it easier for parents to become deadbeat. Quite the
opposite. To challenge paternity, the man would have to appear in court
and more than likely retain counsel. Should he be determined to be the
father, the state would have current information about him with which to
set a fair support order. My bill would facilitate that.

AB 2240 would curtail "deeppocket paternity," "revenge paternity,"
"convenience paternity" and honest mistakes where the mother may truly not
have known who the father was. DNA offers a true solution. We use it in
criminal cases to establish guilt. Why can't the family code join the 21st

Current law is neither fair nor moral. It ruined the life of Steven. It
did nothing to protect the innocent child who was not his, and it forced
Steven's children into poverty and welfare. In contrast, AB 2240 would
protect fathers, families and children.

In time we will DNA-match all children not only to establish paternity,
but also because many new medications will be DNA-based. Until then,
we must have AB 2240.

About the Writer:
Roderick D. Wright wrote this in response to The Bee's editorial "What is
fatherhood? / It's more than biology -- much more," which appeared in
The Bee June 21. He is a Democrat who represents Los Angeles in the
state Assembly. E-mail,
Phone, (916) 319-2048.

Copyright The Sacramento Bee / ver. 4
Sacramento Bee Home:


The Sacramento Bee
Friday, June 21, 2002

Editorial: What is fatherhood?
It's more than biology -- much more

Assemblyman Rod Wright has identified some real problems with the way
California sometimes establishes paternity. Because of poor notification
requirements, men have been named fathers by court order without their
knowledge. Even men who acknowledge paternity don't always know what the
legal obligations of fatherhood entail, nor do they know that they can
require genetic testing before accepting those responsibilities.

No one is certain about the extent of these problems, but they seem to be
widespread enough to require some remedy. Unfortunately, the remedy Wright
proposes in AB 2240 would wreak havoc on families and children across

Under California law, once a court declares a man to be the father of a
child, he has up to the child's second birthday to challenge that ruling.
After two years, even if the man can show through DNA testing that he is
not the child's biological father, in most cases paternity and the man's
legal obligation to support a child cannot be set aside.

Wright's bill would change that. Under it, a falsely named father could
petition a court to set aside paternity at any time during a child's life
if the man could show through genetic testing that he was not the
biological father.

Even though the bill requires courts to consider the best interest of the
child before relieving wrongly named fathers from support obligations, the
change would leave many children at risk of losing the support both
financial and emotional of the only father they have ever known. For that
reason, it should be rejected.

Fatherhood, after all, is more than biology; ask any adoptive parent.
There are sound and ethical reasons someone should be obligated to support
a child who is not biologically his own: because he failed to contest
paternity when the child was born, thus making the child dependent on his
support; because he acknowledged the paternal relationship and accepted
the privileges and responsibility that go along with it for many years;
because he may be the only father the child has ever known; and, most
important, because it may be in the best interest of the child.

To allow a father to shed his court-ordered obligations to a child at any
time during that child's life, at 3, 10 or 16, as the Wright bill does,
would inevitably harm children. Often in such cases, not only a father
would be lost but a whole host of family relationships -- grandparents,
uncles, aunts, cousins, even brothers and sisters, are thrown into turmoil.

To allow such an open-ended challenge to fatherhood also would upset the
strong public interest in prompt, early establishment of paternity. The
earlier paternity is established, the better the chance a mother has to
identify the real father and secure the support to which the child is entitled.

California needs to do a better job informing men of their rights and
obligations when a child is born. But once a man is notified and knowingly
takes on a father's role, the innocent child's interest must prevail above
all else.

Copyright The Sacramento Bee / ver. 4
Sacramento Bee Home:
Related articles/websites:

Bill could upend fatherhood law
by Jim Sanders -- Sacramento Bee, 09 Jun 02

Men gain a rare victory in political gender war as DNA bill passes
by Dan Walters -- Sacramento Bee, 29 May 02

Truth is no defense in state paternity suits
by Dianna Thompson -- San Francisco Examiner, 15 Apr 02

California Paternity Justice Act:
If the Genes Don't Fit, You Must Acquit
by Glenn J. Sacks --, 15 Mar 02

California Bill Search/Information
[search for AB 2240]

Official California Legislative Information

California State Assemblymember Roderick Wright


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