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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Falsely Accused Fathers 

Wendy McElroy is at it again. In her column, ifeminist, she addresses a recent court ruling that concerns fathers' rights. Actually, the case concerns the rights of men falsely accused of being fathers. Read the column.

I cannot find a reference at the moment, but there was a landmark case in NC (if I recall correctly) of a man discovering that he was not the biological father of his wife's two sons. One child was ill and the man was tested as a possible donor. In the course of the testing, the man was informed that he was not the father of either child. His wife admitted having an affair. The children were the products of the affair. In the divorce, the courts imposed child support payments on the man who had been proven was not the father of the two boys. The case was profiled very briefly in the media. The man's appeals were denied and the last time the case was mentioned, he was still making child support payments.

The court decision in California may offer some justice to one set of victims (accused men not fathers).

I am not surprised that the women get a pass on the issue. No mother has gone to jail for falsely claiming that a man is the father of her child. Not really much that could be accomplished in courts anyway. On a rare occasion I watched, one of the Oprah-like shows was running a series on paternity tests. One particular mother had not accused the correct man of being the father of her child in 6 attempts. SIX DIFFERENT MEN had been brought on the show to be accused of being the parent. Yet, no one ever turned to the mother and said "Get your life straightened out and be a parent." I did not watch the final episode to see if the 7th man accused was actually the child's father. I have serious doubts that should the father ever be identified he would be a positive influence on the life of the child.

But what I cannot fathom is the absolute defiance of the courts to offer justice to the falsely accused. There are non-profit organizations that pay for DNA testing for convicted killers. The difference in the two examples is that the convicted killers were given the benefit of a trial. The accused fathers are not even given a semblance of a trial. It is not a kangaroo court because these men do not go to court. According to the reports, most of the men are tried in absentia with no real effort to inform them of the proceedings.

Also, I notice no mention of the rights of the child. I will write more of this issue later. For now, what can be done?

Being a father is not a matter of biology. There are mounds of cases to discredit that notion. Families of adoption, fictive kin, step-families, and others show us that biology is not a necessary ingredient to being a father. But what we have here is an intimate betrayal by a women against a man and the children. The emotional injury is beyond description. A man is fraudulently lead to believe that his wife's children are his biological children. He relates to them as.. as... as, well as a father. Only later does he find out that he is NOT the child's father. The basis he used to establish a relationship with the child is ripped away. What now?

I have no clear perspective on this issue other than knowing that falsely accused men do not deserve to be punished by an unjust court system. The issue is so intimate though, that the next step in parsing out this issue is cloudy. What rights should a non-biological yet participating father have in the life of a child? What stance should the courts take on a mother who falsely identifies a man as the father of her child? Who should receive penalties? Who is entitled to recovery? Jail? Repayment?

I need to think about this. My cultural heritage pushes me towards a feeling of knowing what is "right". But, the issue gets really complicated fast. What about the kids? What about the supposed grandparents and extended families?

I suggest that we all think hard on this issue.
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