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Michigan State reform plan fights rising paternity fraud

The Detroit News
Wednesday, September 25, 2002

State reform plan fights rising paternity fraud
by Dianna Thompson and Glenn Sacks / Special to The Detroit News /

"You play, you pay" is the response often given to men who complain about
the financial burden of supporting their offspring. Today, for thousands
of Michigan men, the refrain has become "You didn't play? You pay anyway."

The stories of victims of paternity fraud often provoke disbelief. Many
men are falsely assigned paternity in default judgments and are compelled
by the state to pay 18 years of child support for children whom DNA tests
have proved are not theirs. Many of these men are not properly served
notice of the paternity proceedings, never get their day in court and have
no idea they are "fathers" until their wages are garnisheed.

Often by the time these men realize what has been done to them, the statue
of limitations for challenging paternity has already passed, and they lose
as much as half their take-home pay to child support, arrearages,
interest, and penalties -- sometimes to support children they have never
even met.

In other cases, men are misled into supporting children who are not
theirs. Sometimes unwed men are urged to declare paternity of their
girlfriend's or ex-lover's children at or near birth, and such declarations,
when later found to be the product of deception, are hard to undo.
Other men are deceived by wives who bear children through adulterous
liaisons and who mislead them into thinking that the children are theirs.

In response to the paternity fraud crisis, the Michigan House of
Representatives unanimously passed two paternity fraud relief bills last
year. House Bill (HB) 4635 and HB 4636 direct courts to terminate child
support obligations and cancel arrearages for men who can present evidence
that they are not the fathers of the children whom they have been ordered
to support. These bills are with the Senate's Families, Mental Health and
Human Services Committee and will be the subject of a testimony-only
hearing today.

Opponents argue that the bills would hurt children. However, these critics
overlook the fact that when a father is forced to pay child support and
arrearages for a child who is not his, his own biological children suffer.
The children of falsely identified fathers need not be deprived of child
support, because mothers in these cases can do what they should have done
at the beginning -- disclose the true identity of their children's fathers
so the state can then approach them to establish paternity and pay child

Children are also harmed by the current system because depriving a child
of knowledge of his or her parentage can have damaging medical
implications. For example, for children facing life-threatening illnesses
such as cancers requiring bone-marrow transplants or other medical
emergencies, knowing their biological heritage can be a matter of life or
death. Also, according to the American Medical Association, it is
important to have an accurate family history because genetic medicine is
increasingly vital in the treatment of many diseases.

Michigan Family Independence Agency statistics indicate that 30 percent of
the nonmarital paternity tests performed in Michigan exclude the tested
man from being the child's biological father. The American Association of
Blood Banks, which evaluated 280,000 paternity tests in 1999, found
similar numbers.

Because paternity fraud is so common, several states, including Georgia
earlier this year, have passed legislation allowing men greater
opportunity to challenge paternity through DNA testing. A similar bill in
California was passed by the Legislature and awaits Gov. Gray Davis'
signature. Alaska has a law that requires unwed parents to establish
paternity through genetic testing, thus insuring that child support orders
are issued only to biological fathers.

Virginia Forton, founder and executive director of Moms for Dads, a group
that supports the proposed reform legislation, says:

"Under the present system, it is easy for women to trick men and say 'this
is your baby.' And it is the men who step forward and take responsibility
for 'their' kids who are the ones who are most likely to get trapped.
Everybody involved gets hurt."

Dianna Thompson is the executive director of the American Coalition for
Fathers and Children in Washington, D.C. Glenn Sacks writes about gender
issues from Winnetka, Calif. Write letters to The Detroit News, 615 W.
Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226, or fax to (313) 222-6417 or e-mail to

Copyright 2002 The Detroit News.
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