What's the right answer to paternity fraud? ["Paternity fraud" means that Mom has
not told her husband or the biological father that he is the father of her child. Instead, she's chosen to live a lie - one that deprives a biological father of his right to be a parent and keeps a husband or former husband on the hook for support even though the child is not his.]
The answer is not easy or predictable: There is no right answer. Every case is dependent upon its own unique set of facts and also upon the specific law of the state in the US having jurisdiction over the issues. These are tough questions; they are often expensive and complicated to resolve.
NOTE: Since this blog post was published there have been sweeping changes to Michigan's Parentage laws. Click here to read Blog Post Sweeping New Changes to Parentage Laws in Michigan. If you have a paternity issue involving a child born or conveived while the mother was married to another man and the mother and child live in Michigan, call Jeanne Hannah's office at 231-275-5600 to schedule a telephone conference to discuss how the new law may impact your particular parentage rights.
About 40% of all children born now are what I choose to call "non-marital children" as opposed to children born "out-of-wedlock." Of course both terms mean that these children are not children of a marriage. But there is inherently a little more dignity in the term "non-marital child".
Unfortunately, many non-marital children are either conceived or born during a marriage. The legal impact is this: the mother's husband is presumed by law to be the father. Thus the child has a "legal father." A biological father - in Michigan and most other states - is not allowed to establish parentage or to maintain a parent/child relationship. It doesn't make sense to expose young children to the confusion of having two daddies. This is why the law doesn't support permitting a biological father to establish parentage of a child who is living in an intact family.
On the other hand, if the husband is allowed to "disestablish" parentage, there is another critical and potentially devastating consequence for a child. A child raised for years knowing only one father may suddenly be deprived of the only father he/she has ever known and/or may feel rejected or unwanted. The biological father who is a stranger to the child and the child, if they've had no relationship at all, may find it very difficult to establish one. And yet, And to complicate matters even further, there are many cases where the facts present a close question.
The New York Times Magazine Section today [November 22, 2009] takes a hard look at this issue. See Ruth Padawer, firstname.lastname@example.org “Who Knew I Was Not the Father?” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/magazine/22Paternity-t.html (Accessed November 17, 2009). You may also listen to a talk show interviewing duped dads. There's also a discussion area where, after registration (free), you can post your point of view.
I've written many articles about how these questions are resolved under Michigan law and how biological fathers can protect their parental rights to their children born to a woman who was married during conception through birth. You may access these articles at the links below. In particular, you will want to check out posts about protecting your rights when a child is born.
UPDATE: But also, please check out my blog post about Michigan's 2012 enactment of the Revocation of Parentage Act here:
For other blog articles discussing parentage, see this link.