In the new New York Times article Who Knew I Was Not the Father? (11/22/09), reporter Ruth Padawer portrays veteran paternity fraud crusader Carnell Smith very poorly. Padawer, an adjunct professor at Columbia University”s Graduate School of Journalism, writes:
In 2001, after Smith”s own paternity struggle, he formed U.S. Citizens Against Paternity Fraud, to help the men he calls “duped dads.’ In his most notable success, Smith persuaded Georgia lawmakers to rescind nonbiological fathers” financial obligations, no matter the child”s age or how close the relationship. Smith then became the first man to disestablish paternity under that law…
A few months after Smith split up with his girlfriend in 1988, she announced she was pregnant with his child. Believing her, he signed a paternity acknowledgment for their daughter, Chandria. He obtained joint custody, paid her support and spent virtually every weekend with his little girl.
When Chandria was 11, her mother sued to increase support. Smith decided to be tested, and the results excluded him as the father…The last time Smith saw his one-time daughter was nine years ago, when she was 11. His outrage at Chandria”s mother and the system remains close to the surface. “We”re penalized for trusting our wives or girlfriends!’ Smith seethed to me. He has long since lost track of Chandria. It is as if she ceased to exist once their biological connection evaporated.
Chandria, however, has not forgotten Smith. Her memories of her 11 years with him are happy ones, which makes what happened afterward so hard for her to grasp. As Chandria, who is now 20, remembers it, Smith just disappeared from her life. “I was just a kid, so I didn”t really understand what happened or why,’ she said. “He never did explain why he didn”t want anything to do with me anymore.’ Chandria says he wouldn”t answer when she called him at home, or he would promise to call back but never did. Smith says he doesn”t recall Chandria calling him.
She stopped seeing friends and holed up in the bathroom, scratching and picking at her skin until it bled. The more it hurt, she told me, the calmer she felt. Her hair started to fall out, her grades slipped and she had trouble sleeping, details her mother and her mother”s lawyer at the time corroborated. Chandria received counseling at her school and privately for years.
“It kind of wrecked my self-esteem,’ she says. “Even now, I worry about being a burden on people. I don”t want to be in the way. I don”t want to be anybody”s problem. It”s made me apprehensive about getting attached to people, because one day they”re there and the next day maybe they won”t be. You can”t help but be careful.’
Chandria now attends college in Georgia. She has seen Carnell Smith on the local news and on the Internet and cannot reconcile the man who seems to her so insensitive with the father she knew: attentive, seemingly proud of their relationship and eager to spend time with her. “He was what a father was supposed to be,’ she says, “but when things changed, he completely disconnected. That”s just not fair. You”ve been in my life my entire life and for you to just cut that off for money, well, that”s not fair to anybody.’
A very sad situation for Chandria, though all blame is assigned to Carnell and none to her mother, who created the nightmarish situation to begin with. Still, situations like this are one reason why I’ve had mixed emotions about certain types of paternity fraud cases. Yet from my experience, paternity fraud claims usually arise after a father is already being separated from his child and/or is being manhandled in family court. In my co-authored column ‘Duped Dad’ Bill Could Foster Closer Ties (Denver Rocky Mountain News, 2/7/07) I wrote:
In many cases paternity fraud claims arise after the duped dad has been pushed to the margins of the children’s lives during a divorce or separation. Sometimes the mother even attempts to use the fact that the man is not the biological father as a way to get the family court to limit or deny him visitation time, while still demanding that he pay child support. Perhaps a Gandhi or a Saint Joseph might be content to pay their exes a large portion of their income in such situations, but they may be the only ones…many duped dads still want to parent their nonbiological children, provided they are allowed a meaningful role in their lives. Some duped dads even wage long, expensive legal battles to remain in the lives of the children with whom they have bonded. Paternity fraud receives substantial media coverage, but these men rarely make the news stories…
Even for those duped dads who do want out, [there should be] more understanding. Some of these men are heartbroken that their wives lied to them and the children over such an important and intimate matter. Many feel a burning sense of humiliation. Some have been manhandled by the bungling, often abusive child support system, and have no desire to remain under its heel for another 10 or 15 years.
Carnell Smith says there’s a side to his story that the New York Times has ignored. The case began in 1999, when the mother went to court to try to increase her child support payments to $1,300 per month, or 42 percent of Smith’s take-home pay. Smith, who had a wife and two children of his own, saw a DNA testing billboard as he walked out of court one day and decided to get tested.
Regarding Chandria, Carnell says his ex-girlfriend said he could only see her if he paid the child support, and Carnell refused. Healso says the ex-girlfriend said that Carnell and his family couldn’t see Chandria unless via supervised visitation. He says his ex-girlfriend and her attorney asked the court to jail him for not paying after the DNA test. He says:
[My] motives have always been clear–to save my family from the clutches of the ex-girlfriend, her attorney and the child support enforcement system. [My] opponents demanded more money while reducing and eliminating my parenting time.