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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

When Deadbeat Dads Are Neither

That men must be responsible — financially at least, dedicated time and energy at best — for the children they sire is self-evident. The epidemic of fatherlessness in our culture may well be the root of social pathologies too numerous to mention. But it is also true that men who are not in fact the father of a given child cannot be expected to assume that responsibility by force of law. Yet in many states, all a woman need do to establish paternity is name a specific man as biological father, and if that man does not step forward to contest the claim, he becomes dad by default, even when subsequent DNA testing establishes that he is not the father. This has got to stop. To be sure, "most men apprehended for unpaid child support are the biological fathers. Only a small percentage are getting screwed," writes journalist Cecily Ruttenberg. But even a few is too many; it is simply wrong for a man to be named and not informed that a default judgment will be entered against him, or that the judgment may already be in effect. A California man currently owes $100,000 in back child support payments, even though he claims the mother went ahead and named him even after she told him he wasn't the dad. Florida recently passed a bill that releases a man from paying child support if DNA proves he is not the biological father. Let's hope this becomes a model for other states. And it goes without saying: Society has every right to collect child support payments from male sperm donors. Their feelings for the woman they once liked enough to get naked with are irrelevant. Tragically, not all kids are going to get the male parent they deserve, but their right to financial support cannot be negotiable. And the same applies in the more rare cases where dad has custody and the absent mom isn't meeting her financial obligations. If it's necessary to take the money from the deadbeat parent without his or her consent, let the collection commence. Garnish: it's not just a salad anymore.