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.