Default Dads

Amy Alkon points out a piece called Default Dads that Matt Welch just wrote for Reason magazine about some of the paternity / child support laws we have here in California. Unfortunately the article isn’t online yet, but you can pick up the Feb issue at most newsstands and check it out. When I first moved to LA I heard Tom Leykis talking about this issue and sort of assumed he was blowing it out of proportion, turns out he wasn’t.

If you haven’t heard about this before, the way the system is set up here in CA basically works like this — a mother can put any name down on the birth certificate as the father with out any proof or consent. Then, if she decides to claim child support from the father, he’s notified, has 30 days to contest it, and if he doesn’t the state takes that as him saying “OK” and he starts owing money. Obviously this is set up with the best intentions but anyone can see where that’s a little sketchy to begin with. The big problem comes in during the notification process. Sometimes they mail out a letter (to an address provided by the mother), sometimes they just print a notice in the paper. If the man listed as the father moved or never lived at that address in the first place, the letter gets lost in the mail (it’s sent regular, not certified), or didn’t happen to see the paper that day, chances are he won’t be able to contest it within 30 days and after that the states decision is final. The man might not hear about this for years, and when he does, even if he’s never met the mother, and can medically proove he’s not the father of the child, the state doesn’t care and he still has to pay up, and his credit — and life — have probably been wrecked already.

Amy posted this quote:

…Family cases typically hew to the “finality of judgment” principle to prevent disruptions in children’s lives. Or, in the words of former California legistlator Rod Wright, “It ain’t your kid, you can prove it ain’t your kid, and they say, ‘So what?'”

That’s how a man like Taron James could be slapped with a support bill for thousands of dollars from Los Angeles County in 2002, and continue to be barred from using his notary public license, even after producing convincing DNA evidence and notarized testimony from the mother that her 11-year-old son, whom he’s seen exactly once and looks nothing like, is not his child and that she no longer seeks his support. James says his name was placed on the child’s birth certificate without his consent while he was on a Navy tour of duty; then the mother refused to take blood tests for eight years, and he became aware of a default order against him only when the Department Of Motor Vehicles refused to issue him a driver’s license in October 1996. By that time, James had missed all the relvant deadlines, the court was unimpressed with his tale of woe, and he has since coughed up $14,000 in child support via liens and garnishments.

Coming from a family where is was a nightmare every single month to get child support from my actual father, I know how important this money can be sometimes. But the only reason he should have been paying was because he was really my father. If the guy isn’t the dad, he shouldn’t owe $0.01. And worse, is that there’s basically nothing set up to discourage putting down an incorrect name as the father. Child support is a good thing, this system is definitely not. Of course there’s a billion issues that go along with this, but this has to be one of the most messed up things I’ve heard about in a long time. It makes absolutely no sense that this could actually happen, but it does. Right here in LA.

7 Replies to “Default Dads”

  1. This is an extremely one-sided, unfair law. My mother also had problems getting legitimate child support from my father, but a law like this is not the answer.

    If a man can prove that he’s not the father of a child with legitimate genetic tests, then the state should update their records, remove any financial judgements against him, and otherwise rectify the situation.

    I understand that getting child support from actual deadbeat dads is a problem, but erasing the rights of men who are not in any way responsible for creating the child in question is not the way to make things right.

  2. I disagree that the law is unfair. There may be some tweeking that needs to take place with the wording to allow for tests, but overall this is a much needed law, and in 99% of the cases is used correctly. There’s always those that will abuse any law, this law just happens to be an easy one to abuse. The law doesn’t need to change, but some enforcement of perjury could prevent false statements on the child’s birth certificate. Nothing to harsh like jail time, California does not need any more Children in foster care, but maybe fines and such.

  3. So, if tomorrow you found out that you owed thousands and thousands of dollars to a woman (who you may or may not know) in child support for a kid that isn’t yours (which you know because if you did know her, you know you never got it on with her) and that leins were being placed on your property, you credit effected, etc.. and even though you could proove it wasn’t your kid, legally you still had to pay up, state records would continue to list you as a deadbeat AND there was no legal recourse you could take, you’d think that was fair?

  4. No, definately not fair, which is why I stated that the wording does need to be changed to allow for testing, and to be more clear of my intentions, the testing should preclude leins or judgements. All I was trying to convey is that I believe this law does more good than bad.

  5. The wording is the issue. I don’t think anyone is saying child support is bad, they are saying that the wording needs to be changed so that an inocent person isn’t held liable. That’s the law that is being discussed as unfair. Not that a deadbeat dad should pay up. I think you are defending something that we’re not talking about.

  6. Thanks for the notice. Mike, I would point out that the state of California itself disagrees with your assertion that the law is “used correctly” in “99% of the cases.” Even if every father named was correct — and we know that that’s not true — the amounts set in the support orders are higher than a man can pay in more than half of the cases.

    But the real outrageous problems are that 1) in L.A., 78% of paternity establishments come about through default judgments (meaning, the man hasn’t met the 30-day deadline to respond to the accusation, so he is presumed guilty; 2) the threshold of information/evidence from which to identify a man as a candidate “obligor” is shockingly low — name, race, vague regional location & 10-year age range are enough; 3) the county does not have to show proof of service for the summons … it is sufficient to have mailed it to the “last known address”; 4) there are a series of other deadlines which, if not met, cancel out the ability of men to introduce DNA evidence that they never fathered the child; 5) no one in the government is even counting the number of incorrectly named fathers, or providing a mechanism for them to get out of paying support when they have convincing evidence they’re not the father; 6) there is no mechanism to punish women who knowingly finger innocent men; and 7) even if a default dad can put a stop to his fraudulent support requirements, he cannot ever get any of his money back.

    These factors — and several others I have not mentioned — combine to create untold thousands of seriously gross injustices.

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