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Jewish World Review June 20, 2000 /17 Sivan, 5760

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Consumer Reports

Buying fatherhood -- IT HAS BEEN SADDENING and maddening to get so many calls to the radio program from some fellow agonizing over whether to have a paternity test to find out the truth about his genetic relationship to someone he has always considered his child.

Saddening because I fret about the feelings and well-being of a child who does not see this issue as one of justice or fraud, but as rejection, devaluation and abandonment.

Maddening because I preach, teach and nag against casual, irresponsible, noncovenantal sex mostly because of the price innocent children pay: abortions, newborn murders or abandonment, broken homes, no-dad families, and the above-mentioned lose-dad situations.

The case that started this current argument was covered by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in May. It seems that Bill's girlfriend, Carol, told him she was pregnant. By the time the baby was born in 1989, Carol and Bill were no longer involved with each other. Because of his seasonal job in construction, he did not keep up with child support payments. A 1990 judgment obtained by the Missouri Department of Social Services had him pay $8,146. He still owed about $7,600.

It wasn't until 1998 that Bill noticed the boy didn't resemble him much, so he asked for a DNA test. Surprise! He wasn't the bio-dad. Figuring this let him off the hook financially, Bill sued Carol and the state of Missouri.

He lost both suits. "Paternity is not lightly disturbed," said Nancy Wallingford, a family law expert in Kansas City. "Judges don't want to disturb the stability of the child." St. Louis Circuit Judge Robert H. Dierker Jr. is also quoted in the Post-Dispatch: "The importance of finality and certainty in judgments is weighty, especially where innocent third parties are concerned."

Basically, what the court said is that it would be an unreasonable burden on this child to have Bill's financial responsibility removed at this time.

I opened the question to my listeners, and angry responses, primarily from men, flooded in. With respect to this issue of "best interest of the child," Marty wrote: "Once again the courts put the best interest of the child before the equal protection clause of the Constitution. The man was a victim of a crime. Where are his rights as a victim? Where is his justice? How dare the court impose involuntary servitude on the nearest man?"

Andy, a child support Magistrate Court employee, wrote: "I have witnessed dozens of cases like the one you spoke of this morning. To me, this presumption (that 'if we no longer hold you responsible as to the welfare of this child, you will stop being a positive influence in the child's life') is governmental control in excess."

Many of the men who wrote seemed certain that this sort of financial determination against the non-bio-dad was merely a ploy by the government to avoid welfare payments to the unwed mother and her child.

While many of the men's responses demonstrated compassion for the tragedy befalling children who find out their "dad" isn't, many suggested that "... the mother seek out the real father and make him pay child support. Is she to be rewarded for her trampy and deceitful behavior by being compensated with child support from an innocent third party for a child that she can't support?"

Truthfully, often the women don't know who the dad is, unfathomable as that may be. I have had calls from married women who had a quick dalliance, only to find out they were pregnant. They are often women with long-established families and other children. When they are truly remorseful and repentant, I generally recommend they not tell their husbands, lest the whole family explode and disintegrate. The man loses his home and his influence on his children. The children lose an intact family with an involved, loving dad. I suggest to the callers that they consider it a kind of blind adoption.

I am often criticized for that advice, especially by those who believe that all truth is always best. I see (BEGIN ITAL)this(END ITAL) truth as an atom bomb in a family, the impact lasting for generations.

On the other side, men call me about whether they should satisfy their suspicions that the child they live with and love may not be biologically related. I challenge them to tell me what they'd do if their worst suspicion was confirmed. To the man, they do not want anything to change. I remind them that everything will. I hope I've convinced all of them not to have that test, no matter how angry they are with the mother. The ultimate price will be paid by them and their children.

Interestingly, one of the letters about the St. Louis case was from a man with such suspicions to this day. However, he revels in having "paid my support and built a loving relationship with her (daughter). I am now the proud father of a beautiful young doctor."

And one last note from a listener: "Are people forgetting that a child is a gift from G-d, not a money matter?"

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© 2000, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. This feature may not be reproduced or distributed electronically, in print or otherwise without the written permission of Universal New Media and Universal Press Syndicate.