Sean Keefe is stand-up guy. If the West Virginian believes in something, he won’t back down from defending it, and that means he’s not the kind of guy family courts like very much. Here’s an excellent article on Keefe and his dilemma (Divorce.com, 5/11).
Keefe was married to Tina Keefe and they had a child. Sean loved the boy and was always a good father to him. But he and Tina got divorced and he was ordered to pay child support and alimony. He did both until he found out his son had been fathered by another man – a man Tina had neglected to mention either during their marriage or in divorce court.
But DNA testing proved Sean not to be the boy’s biological dad and that’s when he decided to take a stand.
But it’s not about child support; it’s about alimony. Keefe says outright that, whatever the boy’s parentage, he’s the one who’s raised him, he’s the one the boy thinks of as his father, and he’ll remain just that – an active, caring dad. That includes paying court-ordered child support.
Fine. What Sean Keefe says he won’t do is pay alimony to a woman who’s lied to him, lied to his son, lied to the other man and lied to the court. And when Sean Keefe says something, he means it.
He’s pleaded his case in two separate family courts and lost in both. That’s because West Virginia family law says that the higher earning spouse must pay alimony to the other. It doesn’t require the lower-earning spouse to have been honest or faithful in the relationship. So legally, he’s bound to pay.
But Sean Keefe refuses to pay. Each month he writes his child support check and from all appearances does so gladly. Alimony is a different matter. Sean Keefe has refused to pay his ex a dime more, and that’s landed him in jail for contempt of court. The judge gave him a six-month bit to do, and if that sounds excessive, I suspect it’s because the judge prefers contemnors who make excuses for their actions to those like Keefe who act out of principle.
Meanwhile, Keefe’s situation, his refusal to set aside his principles and the stout work of his wife Caroline have gotten the attention of a couple of West Virginia state senators.
Senate Bills 502 and 503 were introduced by State Senators Donna Boley and David Nohe, and would allow the court to consider terminating child support in situations where DNA evidence supports the claim that a person did not biologically father a child and would ban alimony where there is proof of an affair in the married relationship.
As things stand now in West Virginia, there is no recourse for a man who’s the victim of paternity fraud. If he’s married, the child is presumed to be his and apparently, if he doesn’t contest paternity in the event of divorce, it’s considered final. He has to pay support while the biological father has no obligations whatsoever. And the biological father seems to have no parental rights.
It’s the same old set of problems with paternity fraud. Laws protect the mother’s power to decide who she wants to be the child’s father. She does that by telling (or allowing him to believe) the man she chooses that he’s the child’s father. If the two are married, she doesn’t have to say a thing. He’ll believe he’s the dad and the law’s presumption backs him up.
So relationships get established. The woman’s partner, believing he’s the father, takes up that role and those duties. The biological dad has no relationship with the child. The child believes the man caring for him/her is “daddy.”
Then somehow the truth comes out and everyone needs to figure out what to do. In most states the law honors the mother’s deceit, although that’s beginning to change. As is so often the case, the passage of time assists mothers at the expense of fathers. The passage of time once again creates a fait accompli that courts are loath to alter.
Just look at the factors West Virginia law considers in deciding whether to even allow DNA testing to determine paternity.
1 – The length of time following when the putative father was first placed on notice he might be the biological father before he acted to contest paternity.
2 – The length of time during which the individual desiring to challenge paternity assumed the role of father to the child.
3 – The facts surrounding the putative father’s discovery of non-paternity.
4 – The nature of the father-child relationship.
5 – The age of the child.
6 – The harm which may result to the child if paternity was successfully disproved.
7 – The extent to which the passage of time reduced the chances of establishing paternity and a child support obligation in favor of the child
8 – All other factors which may affect the equities involved in the potential disruption of the parent/child relationship or the chances of undeniable harm to the child.
Seven of the eight factors (#3 is the only exception) are mostly about time. Therefore, the law prefers the mother’s deceit; the longer she’s able to maintain the facade, the less likely it is to be overturned by a judge.
Boley and Nohe are trying to change that in West Virginia, but even if they succeed, it won’t help Sean Keefe. However respectable his stand against his wife’s dishonesty may be, ultimately he’ll be the one to suffer. That’s because, when he gets out in six months, he’ll still owe alimony and if he still refuses to pay, he’ll be in contempt again and it’ll be back to the slammer for him.
And all that time he’s in jail, he won’t be working and eventually his money will run out. That’ll mean he’ll develop a child support debt to which the state will add interest and fees. That’ll be yet another reason for Keefe to remain in jail and into the bargain, the child whom he truly loves won’t receive his support. And he won’t get to be a father to his son.
Sadly, there’s but one way for Sean Keefe to deal with his outrageous situation. It’s the bitterest of pills, but he needs to swallow it; he needs to pay what the court says he owes and join the ever-expanding fight for sanity in family courts. He’s needed out here with his wife, his family and with the movement for family court reform. In jail is not where Sean Keefe needs to be.