January 28, 2015
By Donald C. Hubin, Ph.D. NPO National Board Member
A few years ago I read about a hospital whose staff mixed up the name tags on two newborns in the nursery. As a result, a mother went home with the wrong infant. The mistake was discovered within a few hours, the mothers notified, and the infants switched back to their correct mothers immediately. Nevertheless, the hospital quickly offered a settlement of $50,000 for its brief mistake. Clearly, it believed that a jury of ordinary people would punish the hospital for at least that amount of money if the mother sued.
Compare that to the cavalier indifference of our society about correctly identifying the true biological father of a child. It can safely be said that dozens of babies go home every day with the wrong father. Murray Davis of the National Family Justice Association did a study a few years back that looked at how many of the men who are declared fathers by default in Wayne County, Michigan are indeed the father. He says DNA tests found 79% of the time they are not.
Mistaken paternity is 100% preventable these days with the use of DNA testing. But no one cares enough about fatherhood to bother.
The first tells the now-familiar story of a man, Carnell Alexander, who faces jail for failure to pay child support for a child that DNA testing has proven is not his. The second tells a less familiar story of a man, Anthony Trapani, who was denied a relationship with his son for 61 of his 81 years of life.
Far too often, the concern of child support collection agencies is not with identifying the correct father, but only with identifying a man — any man – that can be ordered to pay child support. Their rules and procedures invariably discourage DNA testing whenever a man accepts his partner’s claim that he is the father of the child.
The second victim of paternity fraud is the true biological father, who never has the opportunity of raising his child. This is Anthony Trapani’s story. (Some people prefer to call it "misidentified paternity" — as if the mother is not in a position to know who the father is or, at least, to know that she doesn’t know who the father is.)
That third victim is the child. Mistaken paternity harms children in so many ways. They are deprived of the loving involvement of their biological father. A victim of paternity fraud who begins to suspect that he is not the true father is unlikely to be as devoted a father as the child’s biological father. Such suspicion will arise ever more frequently as DNA testing becomes cheaper and easier to obtain over the internet and in pharmacies. Beyond that, though, in a time when genetic medicine is increasingly important, a child who has been victimized by paternity fraud is in a worse position than someone who has no idea of his or her biological family. Throughout that individual’s life, he or she might be confidently giving doctors a false family medical history.
It is hard to fathom how an agency that is supposed to be devoted to promoting children’s well-being can be cavalier about the identification of a child’s biological father. Hard, that is, until you recognize that in the minds of many in the child support bureaucracy, the value of a father is no more than the money he provides for the mother to raise his child. And money is money. What difference does it make where it comes from?
The “father and child reunion” that Warren Farrell wrote about in 2001 will not be realized until we force those in the child support system, as well as those in the legislatures and courts, to see that fathers matter — that the father of a child is not just any old man that the mother wants to identify. Genetic testing for paternity is now cheap and easily available. There is no excuse for not using it in every case of out-of-wedlock paternity identification. It is not only the misidentified man who needs to be protected against paternity fraud. It is also the biological father who might very much want to raise his child and, importantly, it is also the child.