Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

Fathers' Rights Come Last
The Ethicist is unethical. Here's a question and answer from his latest New York Times Magazine column (thanks, Kate Coe):

An attorney with experience in paternity-fraud cases, I was called by a man dating a divorced woman who told him her ex-husband is unaware that he is not the biological father of two of her three children; he pays child support and visits all three. My caller wonders if he should tell the ex-husband, whom he knows. He has no legal obligation to, but does the golden rule suggest an ethical one? Louis Kiefer, Hartford

Your caller should keep this to himself. I can imagine few good consequences and many bad ones from his doing otherwise. For one thing, he has no way of knowing if the claim is true; people say all sorts of things. But even if it is, what would result from his disclosing it? The putative bio-dad already visits the kids, i.e., is involved in their lives. Why risk disturbing that? If DNA testing did prove him to be the biological father of just one child, what would he do — visit only that one and ignore the other two? Buy only that one a winter coat? What makes someone a parent is a continuous relationship with the kids, not the mere exchange of genetic material. If I were to learn suddenly that my college-age daughter had been exchanged in her cradle, I'd love her nonetheless.

What's more, his coming forward would force a confrontation that both parents might wish to avoid. It is not unusual for people to determinedly ignore evidence of infidelity that is obvious to everyone else. There are things people choose not to know, and such information should not be foisted on them. The golden rule is a fine precept, but it's not always obvious what other people would like done unto them.

Unless the mother needs medical information from the bio-dad, the only benefit I can imagine here is that the biological father might be urged to shoulder his financial and emotional obligations. But that seems unlikely. One other thing that you, a lawyer, no doubt realize: in some states a husband is the legal father of his wife's children, which can compel an ex to pay child support even for kids who are not biologically his.

Now, maybe the man will decide to keep fathering as he has been fathering, but maybe that should be his choice -- not a choice made for him? And, if I were the attorney or The "Ethicist," I'd tell the attorney's caller to dump this creepy, unethical woman immediately. Why is it everybody thinks somebody's only going to be creepy and unethical with "other people"?

More on fathers' rights here, in a Tamara Lewin story in The New York Times about fathers who lose their parental rights because...get this...because they didn't register on a list after having sex with a woman as a potential father. List? What list? That's exactly what the men asked as they were losing their rights to their biological children they wanted to keep:

Under Florida law, and that of other states, an unmarried father has no right to withhold consent for adoption unless he has registered with the state putative father registry before an adoption petition is filed. Mr. Jones missed the deadline.

Although one in every three American babies has unwed parents, birth fathers' rights remain an unsettled area, a delicate balancing act between the importance of biological ties and the undisrupted placement of babies whose mothers relinquish them for adoption.

While women have the right to get an abortion, or to have and raise a child, without informing the father, courts have increasingly found that when birth mothers choose adoption, fathers who have shown a desire for involvement have rights, too.

But to claim those rights most states require a father to put his name on a registry. While about 30 states now have registries, they vary widely. In some, fathers must actually claim paternity; in others, just the possibility of paternity. The deadlines may be 5 days after birth or 30, or any time before an adoption petition is filed.

And registries are a double-edged sword: It remains an open question whether they serve more to protect fathers' rights or to protect adoptive parents, and the babies they have bonded with, from biological fathers' claims.

"My specialty is contested adoptions, and the most common contest is where the mom wants to place the baby and the dad objects," said Martin Bauer, president of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. "Registries can protect men against birth mothers who won't disclose the father's name or actively lie about his identity."

Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a nonprofit research and education group, sees it differently. "It's all smoke and mirrors," Mr. Pertman said. "How can registries work if no one's heard of them? And it's just not reasonable to expect that men will register every time they have sex."

Posted by aalkon at March 19, 2006 10:10 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.advicegoddess.com/mt4/mt-tb.cgi/1158

Comments

The Goddess writes:

Now, maybe the man will decide to keep fathering as he has been fathering, but maybe that should be his choice -- not a choice made for him? And, if I were the attorney or The "Ethicist," I'd tell the attorney's caller to dump this creepy, unethical woman immediately. Why is it everybody thinks somebody's only going to be creepy and unethical with "other people"?

Thank you. I was wondering why the Ethicist didn't tell the caller to run -- FAST! Unless he wants to go through the hassle of proving that he's not the father of kid #4.

Keep it to himself? No way! I cannot believe that anyone would sanction a person being forced to pay child support for a child that isn't his!

"For one thing, he has no way of knowing if the claim is true..." Of course he knows the claim is true! The mother SAID it! I don't see what advantage she has to gain by lying to her boyfriend, "I've got this poor sap paying for my kids and he isn't even the father!"

Mr. Kiefer should tell his caller to SING LIKE A CANARY! And slap this woman with whatever litigation the state allows for fradulent claims and she should be required to make restitution on every dime he paid. How can she afford to have her children? She can't. That's the idea. They don't need to be in that scumbag's home.

Posted by: Patrick at March 19, 2006 9:55 AM

I have to agree with the original advice given in response to the caller (new boyfriend).

I'm wondering if folks would feel differently about this situation if it was explicitly stated that the mom of the kids, the kids, and the dads were all well-educated, loving, kind, and well-meaning - but got caught up in not quite knowing the best thing to do and were hoping to avoid hurting anyone further? And they wanted to do the best thing for the kids.

Hind sight is always twenty-twenty, and the peanut gallery, i.e. outside observers, always feel that they "know" what other people should or shouldn't do with their lives. (Usually, they're just projecting their own short-sighted garbage onto others.)

It's easy to make judgments when you don't know the details of a situation or understand the personalities involved.

The mom may have true regrets about her infidelities and is trying to make amends without hurting her ex or her children. She was honest with her new beau (her trust may have been misplaced).

It's also possible that the mom's ex-husband has a strong inkling that he isn't the father of the children. That could be the reason they divorced. But, as stated in the original article, he loves the children and is truly their dad in every way that counts, so if he has suspicions, he's keeping them to himself.

I propose all of these ideas based on the fact that this situation exists in my family of origin. The child of infidelity is loved just as much as the other children and is cherished by her dad, who may not have contributed the genetic material, but who has always been there for her. He doesn't let on that he knows the truth, and it's likely that if anyone talked to him about it, he'd tell them it was none of their business and that it doesn't matter to him at all.

The child in question (now an adult) knows the truth also. She has no interest in building a relationship with her biological father. She loves her "real" dad.

Yes, there are some unevolved, money-grubbing, unkind people out there, but there are many who are not like that at all. Most people make mistakes, but that doesn't make them evil, it makes them human.

Posted by: Avatar at March 19, 2006 11:11 AM

Avatar writes:

I have to agree with the original advice given in response to the caller (new boyfriend).

So, it's perfectly all right with you if someone is forced to pay child support for kids that aren't his, because he was lied to?

The mom may have true regrets about her infidelities and is trying to make amends without hurting her ex or her children.

She already is hurting her ex. She's making him pay for kids that aren't his.

Actually, your response is based upon a lot of maybes. Why not just base on what we know? We know that a man is paying for kids that aren't his, and that he is being led to believe they aren't his. Does he have the right to know that they aren't his? Yes, he does, especially since he's paying for them. Why do you think it's okay for someone to actually pay for someone else's dishonesty?

If she were truly trying to "make amends," then she'd tell the truth.

Posted by: Patrick at March 19, 2006 7:10 PM

I'm with Patrick. In any other arena, this would be called fraud. The fact that a child is involved makes it more (not less) imperative that the parties involved can make informed decisions. If non-Dad truly loves his kids, he won't need a court order to continue their support. But at least that support will be at HIS discretion, and not subject to the whims of his ex-wife intermediary, who we already know to be a woman of questionable veracity.

Posted by: snakeman99 at March 19, 2006 7:38 PM

Sometimes one-size-fits-all fits none very well.

Posted by: opit at March 20, 2006 12:37 AM

it realy is too bad we just cant give everyone some sort of reversable sterilization, that way there would never be any "accidents", or any other sort of unplanned pregnacies

cause i'm willing to bet my life there are more unmarried people paying for kids that arent theirs then there are guys who married whores and are paying for kids that arent theirs

not to suggest all women are whores, but if you want to fuck someone other than your spouse you should get a divorce, or just not get marrried at all

and they really should make dna testing at birth mandatory

Posted by: john at March 20, 2006 12:45 AM

DNA testing at birth is an interesting idea to consider!
It's clearly not possible to expect people to behave responsibly and civilly.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at March 20, 2006 4:56 AM

One way to avoid fraud is to avoid unethical women. Too few people have ethical standards for themselves, though, so, they, in turn don't have them for others. For me, it was a priority, and I tossed men, one after the next, until I found a guy with ethics. If somebody's stealing office supplies, for example, there's a good chance they're unethical in other ways. Either you're ethical or you're not. You're not just ethical when it's cheap or convenient. And if you aren't ethical and you don't look for ethics in others, you're bound to get screwed -- and possibly be paying for 18-plus years of child support for a kid who isn't yours.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 20, 2006 6:46 AM

I love how the Ethicist's instant reaction was that the ex-hubby would immediately dump the kid who wasn't his, upon learning the truth. Nice group of folks, those NYTimes readers. The guy may very well have kept right on beiong a good dad--but he'd have a choice, which, as we all know, is what Women Really Want.
But suppose Bio-Daddy has some genetic kink--the kid has go through life not knowing about the inherited tendency towards a disease, so Mommny can keep up appearances? Nothing ethical here.

Posted by: KateCoe at March 20, 2006 8:28 AM

To respond to folks that think that it's awful for a man to pay child support for children that may not have been created with his sperm:

Once again, if this man has developed loving relationships with these children, they *are* his children. They have no other father - there was a sperm donor - but their father is the one they have the loving relationship with.

Should the guy have been given a choice of whether or not to ignore two of the three children of this woman and only have to pay support for one child? Oh, probably.

It's very likely that this man, if confronted with the truth, would be hurt and angry, but if he has any humanity at all he will continue to love his children, see that they are well cared for, and want to be part of their lives. He is their father in all the ways that count, regardless of what their mother did or didn't do.

Think about this deeply for yourself - if you were in this guy's shoes and you found out that your ex had cheated and that your kids, the kids you love and cherish, whose little league team you coach, whose hockey games you attend religiously, whose talent contest you MC'd for, were not made with your sperm, would you stop seeing them? Stop loving them? Would you just toss them on the scrap heap and say "Oh well, they aren't mine anyway"? Maybe you would. Maybe you grub after every little penny and have a small, cold life.

But most of the men I know would not be like that. My father didn't do that, and he certainly could have gone to court and won the right to ignore my little sister and have his child support payments reduced. But the love for the child and the relationship were more important to him. And now that he's dying from cancer, she's the one who is by his side most frequently and has worked hard to get him the best care possible.

My guess is that this "victimized" man, through his relationships with his children, will reap rewards and joy throughout his lifetime far in excess of what he pays in child support.

You can accuse the mom of fraud but we don't know what her intentions were and we can only hope that all is resolved in a humane and loving way.

Posted by: Avatar at March 20, 2006 5:15 PM

> the Ethicist's instant reaction was
> that the ex-hubby would immediately
> dump the kid who wasn't his ... The
> guy may very well have kept right on
> beiong a good dad

This hope of yours starts to smell like a TV movie of the week. There's a fraud happening. If he had other kids as well, he might feel compelled to steer his resources away from the little fraudlings towards his real kids, and the ethics would be foggier. Even if he decided to spend the money on fishing trips, it's his decision to make. There may come a time in life when the kids would prefer to know the truth about their lineage (and their mother's standard of integrity) than to wear the better grade of Garanimals. Truth is cleansing.

> if this man has developed loving
> relationships with these children,
> they *are* his children

Again, you're drifting into a Lifetime/Oprah definition. These our powerful tools in our intimate lives, but they build bullshit law.

Posted by: Crid at March 21, 2006 7:57 AM

"But most of the men I know would not be like that. "

Then there's no argument against telling him.

"My guess ... will reap rewards and joy throughout his lifetime far in excess of what he pays in child support."

But, you don't want him making that decision.

"...we don't know what her intentions were..."

Yes, we do. Her intentions were, and are, to keep a paycheck coming in for children that are not the children of the man being coerced into paying. Yes, coerced. He is doing this under false pretenses.

But, it's all "for the children", isn't it?

Posted by: Oligonicella at March 21, 2006 8:06 AM

Avatar writes:

Think about this deeply for yourself - if you were in this guy's shoes and you found out that your ex had cheated and that your kids, the kids you love and cherish, whose little league team you coach, whose hockey games you attend religiously, whose talent contest you MC'd for, were not made with your sperm, would you stop seeing them? Stop loving them? Would you just toss them on the scrap heap and say "Oh well, they aren't mine anyway"? Maybe you would. Maybe you grub after every little penny and have a small, cold life.

And has it never entered your twit of a mind that Mr. Biological-sperm-donor is still out there, and my decide to waltz back into the picture at any time, asserting legal parental rights?

You've got one hell of a nerve suggesting that we're all selfish money-grubbers just because we happen to think that the man being duped into paying for kids that aren't his should be told the truth.

But, like your last post, your entire argument is based on "what-ifs."

And your assertion that he is their dad in all the ways that count is nothing short of idealistic idiocy. Unless you can be sure that the child's real father won't suddenly decide to interfere with what this dishonest woman has going on, you really have no basis in your rosy "happily ever after" scenario.

More to the point, let me remind you that this man forged his loving relationships with "his" kids after he was lied to and made to believe that the kids were his. So, that's what makes it okay in your mind? It's perfectly all right to lie to someone, and make him pay for your kids, when he could be legally deposed and forced out of "his" kids' lives at any time, but just as long as the kids are provided for, that makes what she did just peachy-keen.

And if you're so sure that he would be a willing participant in "his" kids' lives, then why not just come forward with the truth, get the real dad to sign away his rights and let Mr. Dad-of-the-millenium (as you seem to think he is) adopt the kids legally.

I tell you, Avatar, you've got cajones of steel to suggest such a thing. And no, that isn't a compliment.

Posted by: Patrick at March 24, 2006 5:26 AM

In all but 14 states if a father assumes the role of the father between 6 months to 2 years he becomes the legal father with all of its rights and obligations. In most states if he is named the father by the biological mother and does not contest it, he becomes the legal father by default. The problem is in states like Ca, they make little effort to inform the victim that there even is a paternity hearing. The term used is Paternity Fraud though no state considers it fraud mainly because the more money the state collects under child support, the more money they receive from the federal government.

There are a multitude of Paternity Fraud sites, just Google the term. You'll discover duped father's reactions range from acceptance to suicide. The question is do men have any repoductive rights or choice at all? Google Putative Father's List. You'll be shocked at this too.

Posted by: Steve at April 4, 2006 4:22 PM

Leave a comment