The Texas legislature has finally seen sense. I hope Governor Rick Perry does too.
As this article tells us, both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate have passed Senate Bill 785 and it’s House counterpart (CBS DFW, 5/3/11). The full houses, as well as the two committees before which the bills were originally considered voted unanimously for the bills. That is, to date, there have been no ‘No’ votes in either house.
The bill, if signed by Governor Perry would allow any man the opportunity to terminate his parent-child relationship with a child who’s not biologically his. If signed, the law will become effective on September 1st. Under it, men will have one year from the date they had knowledge that a child might not be theirs to file suit contesting paternity.
Most importantly, the new law would apply to all men both prospectively and retrospectively. So men who have been paying support for years will be able to go to court and learn whether they are the biological father. If they’re not, the parent-child relationship will be terminated.
If the parent-child relationship is terminated because the man is found to not be the biological father, any child support obligation will end at that time. Any accrued indebtedness or interest will still be owed and will have to be paid.
Non-biological fathers such as adoptive fathers or those who consented to artificial insemination by another man are not covered by this law.
Here’s the text of the bill that’s on Governor Perry’s desk.
What the article makes clear is what this law will not do. It won’t provide compensation for the paternity fraud that led a man to pay for a child not his. As the article says, Texas compensates wrongly convicted felons for the time they spent in jail when DNA exonerates them, but this bill offers victims of paternity fraud no such compensation.
That of course makes a certain sense. After all, it’s the state that convicts a person of a crime, so it’s reasonable that the state should pay when the job is done badly. But it’s a woman who wrongly identifies a man as father. The only state involvement in that is the more or less automatic rubberstamping of the parties’ evidence about parentage by the judge.
No, if anyone should provide compensation, it should be the mother who failed or refused to tell anyone, either during the couple’s relationship or the divorce proceeding that she has reason to believe that the man who thinks he’s the dad might not be. After all, she’s the one who knows with whom she had sex and when. Chances are, she’s the only one. So the burden should be on her to speak the simple truth that no one can be sure, absent genetic testing, who the father is.
As the attorney who’s interviewed for the article says, this law doesn’t do justice, but it stops continuing injustice. As such, it’s a lot better than nothing.
Interestingly, the law states that a “parent” may bring an action to contest paternity. So we can expect mothers with children not fathered by the man who believes himself to be the dad and who want to cut off his relationship with the child he’s raised to be trouping into court to terminate his parent-child relationship. The law is mandatory; it says the judge shall terminate the parent-child relationship.
Up to now, the law in Texas has held that, if a man didn’t contest paternity in his divorce case, his paternity was res judicata, i.e. decided once and for all. It didn’t matter that he’d been duped; it didn’t matter that the mother intentionally kept him in the dark. He was the child’s father by operation of law forever.
This law changes that. Once signed, essentially any man at any time can ask a court for a DNA test and have the request granted. If testing proves he’s not the dad, all his rights and obligations will end. It’s a case of the state’s doing what many mothers refuse to do.
It’s far from a perfect solution, but it’s sure a step in the right direction. Once word of this leaks out, I expect mothers will be just a bit less willing to tag the wrong guy with “paternity,” because they’ll know he could end it at any time. That would leave the child without a dad and her without child support, at least for a time. The law is a none-too-subtle suggestion to tell the truth.
It might also discourage mothers from marginalizing “dads” in their children’s lives post-divorce. After all, a man who thinks he’s the dad will be a lot less likely to terminate his relationship with a child with whom he has a close relationship than one with whom he doesn’t. So to keep that child support flowing, she’ll want to encourage a good father-child relationship. The new law should assist in that.
It’s also fair.
If you want to write Governor Rick Perry a nice, respectful email encouraging him to sign the bill into law, click here and follow the easy instructions.
Thanks to John for the heads-up.