Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Despite DNA, child support may be enforced

By Joe Lambe, The Kansas City Star, 30 December 2007

When David Salazar's estranged wife gave birth six years ago,
both he and
she told state officials he was not the father. But it
didn't matter.

Officials declared him father. A Buchanan County judge later
ordered him to
jail for 28 days for not paying child support.

Advocates for men's rights say his case, like many others,
shows the need
for a new law that would allow men wrongly
declared as fathers to prove the
mistake and escape payments.

Salazar won a rare partial victory for such alleged fathers
when the
Missouri Supreme Court ruled Oct. 30 that he does
not have to go to jail.
Breaking new ground, the court found
that Salazar can't be jailed without a
hearing before a judge
and a chance to prove he is not the father.

That will only apply to the small number of men who are
declared fathers by
Missouri Child Support Enforcement alone.
The agency does that without a
court hearing for fathers who
are married at the time their wives have

That is because under state law that ties back to English
Common Law, a
married man is presumed to be the father of
his wife's child. No matter
that Salazar and his wife both said
they had been separated for 14 months
before she gave birth.

Salazar now gets a chance to prove to a judge he is not
the father, "but
he's not over this deal," said his attorney Merle
Turner. "It is a can of

Even if he convinces the judge he is not the father, he still has
to pay
child support. State officials can garnish wages, take
tax refunds or
revoke any licenses he has to get thousands of
dollars in child support.

That is because state law sets a one-year statute of limitations
on a
finding that a man is the father, unless the man can
somehow prove a high
level of fraud. Alleged fathers who are
not married are ordered to court
hearings where they can get
DNA tests, but many do not appear, and judges
find them
fathers by default. After a year, they owe child support
with almost no way out, until the child is at least 18.

Advocates for children say that is best for the children, and the
rightly lose their rights if they don't show up in court.

Several other states have passed laws allowing men to escape
child support
payments if DNA proves they are not the fathers.

A similar bill failed in Missouri this year. Sen. Chris Koster, a
Harrisonville Democrat, said he would introduce it again next year.

Larry Swall, a Liberty lawyer who is chairman of the Family Law
of the Missouri Bar, said the state treats men harshly
from the start.

"It just smacks of unfairness not to have any relief," he said.


To reach Joe Lambe, call 816-234-4314 or send email to jlambe@kcstar.com

No comments: