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CA Bill could upend fatherhood law

The Sacramento Bee
Sunday, June 9, 2002

Bill could upend fatherhood law
by Jim Sanders -- Bee Capitol Bureau

Claiming they're paying child support for kids who aren't theirs, some
California men are arming themselves with DNA tests and fighting to change
state law.

An Air Force master sergeant says lab results show that three children
born during his marriage were fathered by three different men.

A Fairfield man says he had a one-night stand with a woman, then married
her when she falsely claimed he had gotten her pregnant.

A La Jolla man says his wife admitted having an affair after he
discovered, through testing for his daughter's lung problems, that
something was amiss.

Advancements in genetic testing have created a societal dilemma: What if a
judge says a man is a father, but science later says he's not?

Assemblyman Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, has proposed legislation to help
such men win freedom from paying up to 18 years of child support.

"If it's not your kid, it's not your kid -- and we should be going after
the real father," Wright said. "It isn't fair."

Others say the issue is not that simple, requiring a balance between men's
rights and those of women and children.

"I believe fatherhood has a lot less to do with genetics and a lot more to
do with (relationships)," said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles.

Wright's bill, AB 2240, would give judges more discretion to drop old
child-support orders on the basis of new testing.

Critics say the bill could do lasting damage to children, allowing the
only "father" they've ever known to sever all ties.

To gain their financial freedom, men would have to give up their
visitation rights, leaving kids feeling rejected and confused, they say.

"We could be wreaking havoc on our family law system," said Assemblywoman
Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who voted against the measure.

States throughout the nation have been grappling with the DNA issue.

Nine states have passed legislation allowing paternity judgments to be
challenged by DNA tests, and five others have bills pending, Wright said.

Under current California law, every man has a right to contest paternity,
but only for a designated period unless he was defrauded of his legal rights.

When time for challenges runs out, generally within two years, the court's
order stands and DNA test results won't alter it.

AB 2240 would apply to men who did not hire an attorney to contest
paternity, were ordered to pay child support and then discovered years
later that they couldn't possibly be the biological father.

The measure passed the Assembly 57-3 last week and now goes to the Senate.
Gov. Gray Davis has not taken a position on it.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Californians could qualify for relief
under the legislation, Wright said.

He said it is not uncommon for a man who believes his wife or lover is
faithful to spare himself the expense of a court fight, and concede
paternity, only to learn much later that she had been having an affair.

Other men falsely identified as fathers may not have been properly
notified about judicial hearings or their legal rights, he said.

Respect for the judicial system diminishes when laws don't allow
injustices to be corrected, he contends.

AB 2240 initially would have forced judges to overturn child-support
judgments on the basis of DNA testing. As amended, the bill simply gives
judges discretion after considering a child's best interest.

The measure would allow men to erase old child-support debts but not win
reimbursement for payments already made.

Under AB 2240, challenges could be filed up to three years after someone
discovered -- or through "reasonable diligence" should have discovered --
that an error occurred in establishing paternity.

Affected children and mothers also could contest paternity.

Nick Napoli is counting on the legislation to turn his life around.

The 31-year-old Cloverdale man faxed to The Bee test results from a DNA
laboratory that conclude he could not have fathered two children -- 9 and
10 years old -- for whom he owes nearly $20,000 in child support.

"The probability of paternity is zero percent," the test results said.

Napoli said he dated the children's mother after high school. He did not
contest paternity. Years after the relationship ended, Napoli heard rumors
that he wasn't the father.

"It hurt my feelings because it was making a fool out of me," he said.

Two years ago, Napoli got DNA tests for himself and the children. He then
approached Sonoma County authorities but was told he had to pay child
support nonetheless, Napoli said.

"I never thought the government would do this to someone who has (DNA)
proof," he said.

Napoli, currently unemployed, said he seldom sees the two children
anymore. His $250 monthly obligation puts a crimp in plans to marry
another woman, Darlene Klaiber, and start a family of their own, he said.

"Everything's on hold," Napoli said. "To buy a house is totally
impossible -- no (lender) will touch you."

The mother in Napoli's child-support case declined to comment.

Cindy Moore of the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office said
conversations with Napoli or any client are private. But generally little
can be done to overturn child-support orders years after they have been
issued, she said.

Dianna Thompson, executive director of the American Coalition for Fathers
and Children, said kids should be told the truth about DNA tests --
whatever the repercussions. "I believe they have a right to know," she
said. "They're victims in this. They didn't ask to be lied to."

Accurate information about a child's biological father could be important
in a medical emergency, Thompson said.

Others say the potential ramifications of AB 2240 should be carefully

The measure makes no distinction between casual love affairs and longtime
marriages in which a man functioned as a father from a child's birth,
critics note. They say numerous relationships could be tossed into
turmoil. Children could lose not only their "fathers," but people they
thought were aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.

"When you start spinning out the potential human relationships that get
affected here, and all the scenarios that could play out, it's very
troubling where you could end up," said Paula Roberts of the Center for
Law and Social Policy in Washington, D.C.

The Bee's Jim Sanders can be reached at (916) 326-5538 or .

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


The Sacramento Bee
Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Men gain a rare victory in political gender war as DNA bill passes
by Dan Walters -- Bee Columnist

Among its other shortcomings of omission and commission, the California
Legislature is a very inconsistent purveyor of public policy, constantly
enacting legislation that reverses other laws, sometimes even within the
same legislative session.

While the syndrome is not a new one, the rapid turnover of legislators
mandated by term limits may exacerbate it as it damages institutional
memory. New people have new slants on matters of public policy and are not
shy about engraving them into law, regardless of how they may conflict
with past policies.

Most of the time, this erratic policy-making is merely annoying to those
who must interpret and implement the Legislature's emissions, but in
certain fields, it has a real human impact. And nowhere is that more
evident than in the treacherous minefield of laws and policies affecting
relations between men and women.

The Legislature (and the governor) decree whose interests will have
primacy as about 100,000 marriages are dissolved in California each year.
The allowable grounds for divorce, the levels of child support and
alimony, and the rules governing prenuptial agreements are among the pithy
matters that the politicians decide, and it's a rapidly evolving policy area.

The election of more women to the Legislature -- itself largely a product
of term limits -- and the major influence that women's rights advocates
have achieved within the dominant Democratic Party have tilted the
political balance in the war between the sexes toward women in recent years.

A landmark domestic relations policy change occurred when the Legislature
imposed tougher standards on child support -- so tough, in fact, that it
sparked creation of men's rights groups. They complained that divorced
dads, even conscientious ones, are being treated like criminals, subject
to having their wages seized arbitrarily and having visitation rights ignored.

In 1996, the men won one, after a fashion, when the Legislature passed and
then-Gov. Pete Wilson signed legislation declaring alimony to be temporary
support aimed at making recipients become self-supporting "within a
reasonable period of time." And it would allow their alimony to be
terminated if they failed to move toward self-support. Women's rights
groups didn't like it, saying it could allow ex-spouses -- women
overwhelmingly -- to be hauled into court and threatened with cutoff of
their support payments if they didn't return to school or get jobs.

The groups that opposed the new alimony law tried to have it repealed, but
could not win as long as Wilson remained governor.

"The only collection of women who oppose this bill are second wives,"
then-Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl said as she urged a repeal.

In 1999, after Gray Davis succeeded Wilson as governor and Democrats had
achieved larger legislative majorities, Kuehl and other women's rights
champions in the Legislature pushed through a repeal, which Davis signed.

Last year, Davis and other Democrats delivered another victory to the
distaff side of the gender war when they enacted a Kuehl-carried bill that
would void any prenuptial agreements unless the spouses were represented
by attorneys or waived that right.

The measure was sparked by a state Supreme Court decision upholding the
prenuptial agreement signed by the former wife of baseball star Barry
Bonds, even though she was not represented by an attorney.

The men won a rare skirmish in the state Assembly on Tuesday when it voted
51-3 to make it easier for men to challenge child-support orders when DNA
tests prove that they are not the biological fathers of the children involved.

The measure is backed by men's rights groups, and advocates, including its
author, Assemblyman Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, said it was a matter of
fundamental fairness, likening it to DNA tests that free wrongly convicted
prisoners. But critics said it would plunge more children into poverty,
and Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, said it would resurrect
the "age-old double standard."

The Wright bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, and even if it
clears that hurdle, an uncertain fate in Davis' hands. He's quite aware
that he needs female voters to win re-election.

The Bee's Dan Walters can be reached at (916) 321-1195 or .

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

Q: Should courts allow DNA testing to determine paternity in child-support
Symposium -- Insight Magazine, 27 May 02
YES by Dianna Thompson
NO by Jenny Skoble
[both responses were posted on 06 May 02]

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

[the above article was also published under a different title:
DNA Evidence: Enough to Exonerate Dads?
by Dianna Thompson -- MND, 11 Apr 02]

DNA Shakes Up Child Support Law
Rights: System is challenged by men forced to pay for children who are not
by NICHOLAS RICCARDI -- LATimes, 15 Apr 02
[link has expired; article copy is available by request to acfclist]

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

US Citizens Against Paternity Fraud
Carnell Smith -- Victim, Director & Founder



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