Syndicated California political columnist Dan Walters has written a column on Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) (pictured) and several bills Fathers and Families helped Wright introduce. The column has been published in the Sacramento Bee and a dozen other California newspapers.
Walters covers spousal support reform bill SB 481 (to learn more, click here) and also the battle to fix California’s paternity laws. Earlier this year F & F worked with Wright to introduce two new paternity fraud bills (SB 377 and SB 375) into the California legislature. Taken together, the bills will:
1) Help “duped dads’ free themselves from being forced to pay 18 years of child support for other men”s children by allowing them to petition the family court to transfer the obligation from themselves to the actual biological fathers
2) Crack open the current, restrictive time limit for challenging paternity, allowing a duped dad the opportunity to file for relief after he “becomes aware of facts that lead him to reasonably believe that he is not the biological father of the child’
3) End the abusive practice of coercing boys under the age of 18 into signing legally binding paternity declarations without parental consent or legal counsel
In addition to Wright, Fathers and Families” legislative representative Michael Robinson has played a key role in numerous legislative and judicial measures to address paternity fraud. These include helping to pass paternity fraud bills (AB 252 and SB 1333) which allow California child support obligors to use DNA evidence to set aside false paternity judgments and the concomitant child support orders.
Robinson also spearheaded a successful campaign to counter the County of Los Angeles” California Supreme Court petition to depublish the historic Navarro decision. Navarro was the first published case to hold that the statute of limitations did not apply in setting aside an old default judgment against a paternity fraud victim.
As Walters details, Wright has long-championed paternity fraud legislation. It can be such a difficult political issue that Wright once described his early attempts to address it as being akin to being “the first ones to hit the beaches at Normandy.” Walters writes:
[I]n 2002 [Wright] won legislative approval of a bill [AB 2240] that would 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.
Wright likened it to the use of DNA evidence to free wrongly convicted prisoners, but feminists said it would plunge more children into poverty, and, as Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, put it, would resurrect the “age-old double standard.” Davis vetoed the bill.
At the time, we condemned Davis in our column Preserving Paternity Fraud (Orange County Register, 10/3/02). We wrote:
California Governor Gray Davis had the chance to free thousands of falsely condemned men last week. He chose federal funds instead.
Davis vetoed the California Paternity Justice Act (AB 2240), which would have helped thousands of California men who were wrongly assigned paternity in default judgments, and who have been compelled by the state to pay years of child support for children whom DNA tests have shown are not theirs. In Los Angeles County in 2000, for example, 79 percent of paternity judgments were decreed by default. Most of these men had no idea they were “fathers” until their wages were garnished.
Technical instructor Bert Riddick of Carson is one of the men AB 2240 would have helped. Ten years ago, Riddick was erroneously named by an ex-girlfriend as the father of her child. By the time Riddick realized what had occurred, the statute of limitations for challenging paternity had passed. Riddick, his wife and their three children have fallen from the middle class to homelessness because he is forced to pay $1,400 a month in child support and arrearages. Like many paternity fraud victims, Riddick has never even met the child he is supporting.
Davis could have freed thousands of these innocent men and their families by signing AB 2240. The bill would have helped men assigned paternity in default judgments by extending to three years from the date of discovery the period during which such judgments may be challenged through DNA testing. The bill would have allowed courts to vacate default paternity judgments which are shown to be erroneous, thus relieving falsely identified fathers of further child support.
Instead of justice, Davis chose money.
Under federal guidelines, states must identify the fathers of children whose mothers are receiving benefits or risk losing federal incentive money. In addition, states receive federal funding on child-support orders. Because federal rules do not require DNA testing to prove paternity, states have little incentive to demand accuracy in establishing paternity.
Opponents of the bill included NOW, the National Center for Youth Law and the San Diego-based Children’s Advocacy Institute. An institute official praised the veto, saying “we’re glad that the governor put children first.”
These critics overlook the fact that when a father is forced to pay support for a child who is not his, his own biological children suffer greatly. If Davis had signed AB 2240, children of falsely identified fathers would not have been deprived of support. Mothers in these cases would do what they should have done all along: disclose the true identity of their children’s fathers so the state can then approach them to establish paternity and pay child support.
Riddick was devastated by Davis’ veto.
“Davis and his supporters say they did this for the children. Let him come to my house and explain to my children why this is good for them.
“The system lies to children about their own parentage and Gov. Davis thinks that’s OK. The system defrauds thousands of innocent men and wounds their families and Gov. Davis thinks that’s OK. The system puts money ahead of truth and justice and Davis thinks that’s OK. What kind of message is this sending to our children?”
Walters’ piece also covers our political battle over spousal support–to learn more, see Part I here.