It is difficult to estimate how many people are victims of paternity fraud in the United States, but even conservative estimates put the number in the millions. It’s been referred to as a “national epidemic.”
What’s most staggering about the issue is just how easy it is to commit paternity fraud. For example, if a man signs a paternity acknowledgement form and the statute of limitations for paternity expires, he is on the hook for child support until the child is 18 even if it later turns out he isn’t the biological father.
Mothers can also commit paternity fraud when applying for welfare by listing anyone as the father. She could give a fake address, in which case the man will likely not be notified and will be unable to show up to court. That then leads to a default judgment and he is again required to pay child support.
What’s most heartbreaking about the problem is the number of victims paternity fraud leaves in its wake. It isn’t just men who suffer. Paternity fraud devastates men, women, and children alike.
This is how paternity fraud devastates entire families:
How paternity fraud devastates men
Once an act of paternity fraud has been committed, the situation rapidly starts to seem helpless for the victim.
That’s largely because proving you are a victim of paternity fraud is extremely difficult. Even a DNA test isn’t enough to vacate a paternity order in some states.
To prove paternity fraud, a man must show that the mother knew he wasn’t the father, that she verbally told him he was not the father and that he signed the acknowledgement based on her statement. Collecting that evidence can be challenging, especially if the mother doesn’t cooperate.
The end result is that there are many men left paying child support for children they aren’t responsible for. And it’s next to impossible to recoup those payments.
Consider the case of Carnell Alexander. Last year, the Michigan man was held responsible for $30,000 of missed child support payments for a child that DNA tests proved wasn’t his.
To maximize child support collection, the federal government requires each state to have paternity establishment procedures and provides penalties and incentives to states related to their performance in paternity establishments.
So eligibility for federal funds depends on tagging the largest number of men and there is no review or requirement that it be the actual biological father. That results in thousands of men paying child support for children they didn’t father often at the expense of their own families.
How paternity fraud devastates children
No one suffers more in paternity fraud cases than children.
First of all, the child is denied the truth about who their father is and misses out on the opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship with their biological dad.
Paternity fraud can also put the child in a dangerous position since they don’t know the truth about their family health history. Heredity has a serious effect on health and not knowing their family health history puts them at risk of developing diseases that could have otherwise been avoided with proper screenings and precautions.
Additionally, they are robbed of the chance to develop relationships with extended family members and could lose out on inheritance rights.
How paternity fraud devastates women
Paternity fraud is typically framed as a men’s issue, but women often suffer too.
There are daughters who never know their real dad and suffer the devastation that all children paternity fraud victims face. But there is also hardship for women who find themselves in relationships with men who are victims.
“Many children and families have to go without when Dad is paying child support for children they didn’t father,” said Dianna Thompson, President of Women Against Paternity Fraud. “Many women can’t afford to have children with their own husbands because he’s paying child support for a child he didn’t father.”
What is the answer?
WAPF is a non-profit organization that works to educate the public on the issue of paternity fraud and is one of the most aggressive groups working to combat the problem.
Thompson makes it clear that serious change is needed.
“Currently, federal policy creates unintended and perverse incentives that fosters paternity fraud to the great injury of children and men, as well as … the loss of public respect for the system that is seen as unjust by paternity fraud victims and others who believe that truth should be the basis of any law or policy,” Thompson said.
Thompson added that the most important change that can be made is also the simplest one. The federal government must pass a law declaring that no paternity finding is final until a DNA test proves the identity of the biological father.
In the past, injustices could occur because it was difficult to be sure about the true identity of the child’s father. Modern DNA testing should eliminate that excuse.
“If DNA is used to free death-row inmates, we should accept it in paternity cases,” she said.
To learn more about paternity fraud, visit womenagainstpaternityfraud.org.