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

Even more recently, another case has been shaking up the state's long-established paternity principles -- but with a different message. In June 1994, a girl known only by her initials, S.R.H., was born to a husband and wife, N.A.H. and A.H. of Fort Collins. The husband watched the girl be born and was listed on her birth certificate as her father.

N.A.H. and A.H. had endured a shaky twenty-year marriage. On occasion, the wife had moved out. In fact, unknown to the husband, it was during one of the separations that the girl had been conceived. Later -- also unknown to the husband -- the mother had maintained contact with the biological father, known as S.L.S. On some Fridays, she dropped their daughter off at his house for up to ten hours at a time while she worked. Once, S.L.S. took the girl out of Colorado to visit his relatives.

Following marriage counseling, N.A.H. and A.H. reconciled in early 1996. S.L.S.'s contact with his daughter was cut off entirely. Soon after, he filed a case with the local court arguing that since he was the girl's biological father, he had a right to see her. (According to Mark Workman, the lawyer who represented S.L.S., the husband found out the girl was not his only after stumbling on S.L.S.'s case while in the courthouse on an unrelated matter.)

Joe Forkan

In 1997, a local magistrate, citing biology, declared S.L.S. to be the legal father of the girl. "The Court acknowledges that [the husband] is and will continue to be an excellent and committed parent," the magistrate wrote. "However, this is not a case in which the Court is to select which male will do a better job of being the father of the child. [The biological father, S.L.S.] is not just a sperm donor. He has shown that he wishes to be actively involved in the child's life."

After several appeals by the husband and wife, the case made its way to the Colorado Supreme Court. There, this past September, the judges disagreed with the local magistrate. The justices noted that while there were various competing definitions of "father" contained in numerous state laws, none was necessarily better than another. Thus, they wrote, "the best interests of the child must be considered as part of the policy and logic analysis used to decide legal fatherhood."

While the formula sounds reasonable -- everyone agrees that the best interests of the child are of the highest importance in any custody case -- Workman says the result of the Fort Collins case was the worst possible mixture of biology and psychology and rights and responsibilities. The girl is back with the husband and wife. Meanwhile, the biological father continues to pay support for her but has no visitation rights.

"The system is well tuned to collect child support," Workman says, "but not to preserve the relationships between children and their biological parents."

Ron's lawyer, Ted Mazurek, agrees that the new intrepretation of Colorado's paternity law is trouble, though for different reasons.

"There's no way in hell the law was ever intended to make non-fathers fathers," he says. "What they're saying is that the DNA test means nothing. Let's just line them up and choose the best one. Do we really want a hundred different judges out there picking daddies?"

Perhaps with such changeable standards and the constantly moving definitions of rights, responsibilities and parenting -- all overlaid with the issue of morality -- it was inevitable that the best any court could come up with in increasingly complicated paternity cases is that each one should be decided as it comes along. "At the end of the day, you can really do what you want with Colorado's paternity laws," says Kim Willoughby, a Denver family lawyer. And finding the high ground in any custody matter -- in which rage and retribution are often mingled with what might be best for the child -- is always tricky, none more so than in Ron and Anne's case.

Ron points out that doing the right thing means paying for your actions. He is paying $350 a month for his son, after all, and expects no different of Anne's lover. Yet there is no shortage of people who are certain that Ron would be a better person if he ignored the DNA tests.

"I don't know where the law will come down, but I would define Ron as a jerk," says one family lawyer familiar with the case.

Kenneth Ward, head of the Denver-based Fathers for Equal Rights, agrees. Ron has played father to a girl for nearly eight years, he points out; but for a single genetic test last summer, nothing has changed. "He should continue to be a father to his daughter," he says. "When I was growing up without a dad around, it wasn't the fact that my mother wasn't getting a check every month that I hated. It was that I didn't have a father."

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