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As genetic testing pins down paternity issues, the definition of fatherhood gets murkier.

Arapahoe County District Court Judge Juanita Rice agonized over what to do. Rice noted that "there are many reasons not to" do the test. For example, she wrote, "The impact on [the daughter] in learning that [Ron] is not her father could be very traumatic."

But, she added, "The Court notes that the law does not allow it to always do what is right. If the Court were only looking at [the daughter's] best interest, it might be that the pain of knowing who her father is would be greater than having her live in deceit."

Rice also acknowledged that "if this issue is not raised in [the daughter's] childhood, her paternity may be raised in her adulthood in an unloving way." So, this past August, the judge ordered Anne and the daughter to submit to DNA testing. "The Court believes the Uniform Parentage Act has as one of its goals that children know who their parents are and parents know who their children are," the judge wrote in her decision. "This knowledge is necessary for an orderly society."

Joe Forkan

In the event that another man was found to be the girl's father, Rice added, she would appoint a special representative to "deal with the issues of when [the daughter] is told, how she is told and how she will be supported by therapy during the process."

Ron paid for the test. Two weeks later, he had the results: There was literally no statistical chance that he could be his daughter's biological father. "There were no tears," he says. "Just a lot of hurt and disbelief." Further tests confirmed that Anne's acquaintance was in fact the father of Ron and Anne's youngest child.

Despite that knowledge, Anne has continued to insist that Ron pay child support to the girl he thought was his daughter. (Meanwhile, the real father -- Anne's acquaintance -- has said he wants nothing to do with his newfound daughter.)

Ron, who says he has no qualms about paying child support for Anne's older daughter, whom he legally adopted early in the marriage, has fought back. The girl's father, he argues, should start supporting his daughter. And he points out that he, too, is in "the other man's" shoes.

"I see my son only a couple times a year, but I'm paying support for him," he says. "Why shouldn't the father here pay, too?"

Although there are many small, specific reasons a man might argue over whether he is a child's parent, the issues generally boil down to two things: Time and money. The former, often described in terms of "custody" and "visitation," usually is associated with a father's rights -- the privileges one enjoys as a parent. The latter, known as "support," is more usually described in terms of a man's responsibilities -- those things that he accepts.

Traditionally, the father's rights and responsibilities have been lumped together: Part of being a decent parent, the old argument goes, is paying the bills. Another legal given, strengthened by the government's resolve to shrink the country's welfare roles by getting fathers to pay child support, has been that the biological father always pays for his child. Finally, most judges have agreed that once a father legally acknowledges a child is his -- regardless of any new DNA evidence that may crop up -- he is, in the eyes of the court, the father forever.

Yet in a growing number of cases across the country, these age-old principles have clashed. In a well-known Texas case, for instance, a man named Morgan Wise recently discovered that only one of four children born during his marriage was biologically his. The couple divorced five years ago. Yet, despite the new genetic evidence, a district court judge ordered Wise to continue paying child support to all of the children -- and then prevented him from seeing them.

In Colorado, two new cases are poised to redefine traditional paternity laws. One of them started in Pueblo nearly five years ago. After many years of marriage and three children, Donald and Loretta Smith filed for divorce. When custody and parenting time became an issue, Donald asked for genetic testing. The results shocked him: None of the three children were his.

Later, the father of the kids was identified as Charles Ames, a man with whom Loretta had carried on a long-term affair. In 1997, Donald Smith demanded to be reimbursed by Ames for all the money he'd spent raising three children whom Ames had fathered. In October 1999, the state Court of Appeals agreed that Ames owed Smith the money and ordered him to pay. The amount -- about $20,000 in all -- was nowhere near the cost of raising three children. But a precedent had been set.

Not everyone was pleased. In a dissenting opinion, one of the judges worried that too much emphasis was being placed on biology. "Smith maintains that once Charles Ames' paternity was established by scientific testing and that Ames was declared to be the biological father by the court, Smith's previous status as the presumed father--with all of its attendant rights and obligations -- vanished retroactively," the judge wrote. "This issue has major ramifications for Colorado's children."

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