Thomas Rodriguez: ‘At Age 17 the System Manipulated Me Into Signing a Paternity Declaration Without Parental Consent or Access to Legal Advice’

Thomas Rodriguez: When I was 17 the hospital manipulated me into signing a paternity declaration without parental consent or access to legal advice.

One of the most pernicious injustices in the family court system is the way child support enforcement agencies manhandle underage boys, often manipulating them into signing paternity declarations as minors without parental consent or legal counsel. Thomas Rodriguez (pictured) is one of these young men.

Fathers and Families has helped introduce two paternity fraud bills in the California legislature this year, one of which (SB 377) will address the injustices faced by young men like Thomas. In Thomas’ support letter to Senator Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles), the bill’s author, he explains:

I am writing to you in support of SB 377, because when I was 17-years-old I was victimized by the problem which the bill addresses.

The hospital manipulated me into signing a paternity declaration when my former girlfriend gave birth to a son she said was mine. There was no parental consent nor did I have access to legal counsel or advice. I was never informed of the legal implications of what I was being asked to sign and I did not fully understand them. I thought that because I was a minor, there couldn”t be serious legal implications. I have since learned differently.

The mother of the child has not allowed me to have a relationship with the boy, and several of her relatives have told me that another young man who I knew in our community is in fact the biological father.

I tried to rectify the situation, but the judge ruled me to be the biological father and denied my request to establish paternity, even after the child”s mother initially agreed in court to have DNA testing done.

I am now on the hook for 18 years of child support to support a boy I”m not able to see and who perhaps is not even mine. Moreover, someday I would like to marry and have a family, and I am instead faced with the potential prospect of losing a quarter of my after-tax earnings because I was defrauded.

SB 377 would resolve these kinds of injustices by “invalidat[ing] a voluntary declaration of paternity that is signed by a minor parent if it is not also signed by the parent or guardian of the minor parent.’ SB 377 would also require that the parent or guardian of the minor parent receive oral and written information relating to the voluntary declaration of paternity.

I wish this legislation had been in place when I was 17–it would have saved me a lot of pain and problems.

Thomas Rodriguez
Riverside, CA

To learn more about our 2011 paternity fraud legislation, please see the Holstein/Sacks opinion column Bill would give ‘duped dads” some fairness under the law (Los Angeles Daily News, 6/2/11).

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