paternity establishment: undue influence, misrepresentation & mis-service

Men suffer from lack of good biological paternity knowledge.  That’s not a matter of biological destiny, men’s personal faults, or men’s free choices.  Legal processes of paternity establishment support false biological paternity beliefs through undue influence, misrepresentation, and mis-service.

In high-income democratic societies, paternity is commonly established in hospitals shortly after a woman gives birth.  If the woman is married, paternity of her newly born child is legally assigned to her husband.  A husband on his own initiative could seek to have a paternity test.  However, the mother might perceive her husband’s request for a paternity test as a grave insult to her.  A husband requesting a paternity test could thus seriously endanger his relationship with his wife, irrespective of the results that such a test would provide and whatever actions a husband would take given certain knowledge of paternity or non-paternity.  Not having paternity testing as a default legal rule supports relational circumstances that unduly influence husbands to remain ignorant of true paternity knowledge.[1]

If a mother is not married, paternity is commonly established through having a man sign an acknowledgement of paternity in the hospital shortly after the mother gives birth.  Paternity testing is not a default procedure in administering acknowledgement of paternity.  An unmarried man’s relationship with a girlfriend is less legally constrained than a husband’s relationship with his wife.  But that does not necessarily imply that a relationship with a wife is less personally important to a man than a relationship with a girlfriend.  Just as for married men, requiring an unmarried man to request personally a paternity test unduly influences him to remain ignorant of true paternity knowledge.

Misrepresentation in the administration of acknowledgements of paternity also contributes to men remaining ignorant about paternity.  Child-support agencies misrepresent acknowledgement of paternity as offering a man the benefits and responsibilities of fatherhood. Signing a legal acknowledgement of paternity isn’t necessary for a man to provide emotional or financial support to a child, or more generally to act as a father to the child.  Signing an acknowledgement of paternity does nearly nothing to improve men’s highly unequal opportunities to gain physical custody and to receive child-support payments.  Legal acknowledgement of paternity, which child support agencies administer and fund, primarily serves the interests of child support agencies seeking to collect money from men.[2]

Misrepresentation in the administration of acknowledgement of paternity goes deeper than misrepresentation of interests. New York State’s Acknowledgement of Paternity form, for example, informs the man and the mother:

If you have any doubts about the child’s paternity, after reading this notice and having received oral notice, do not sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity.

In the U.S. today, about 5% of children falsely identify their biological father.  Highly accurate paternity testing can now be done easily at low cost.  With such paternity testing, a man has no reasonable basis for doubt about whether a child is his biological child.  Without such paternity testing, a man necessarily has a reasonable basis for doubt about whether a child is his biological child.  That’s simply a matter of practical reason and biological and social reality.  Without paternity testing, the Acknowledgment of Paternity form cannot fairly be presented to a man to sign, because no man should sign it.

Mis-service of legal notifications of alleged paternity and resulting default judgments create many false legal attributions of paternity.  Child-support agencies receive claims of paternity from women and serve notice of those claims to men.  A default judgment of paternity, with a child support order not correctable retroactively, is established when the man does not respond to the notice.  About the year 1999, default judgements established 68% of child support orders in California and more than 50% of child support orders in six other states.  Default judgements number in the hundreds of thousands per year.[3]  Service procedures for paternity notices help to explain why a large share of fathers subject to child support orders have paternity established through default judgments:

In California, documents in civil proceedings do not have to be delivered to the person named in the proceeding, referred to as personal service. If a complaint cannot be hand delivered to the person, “substitute” service is allowed, which essentially means that any adult can be served the summons and complaint at the residence or employment of the noncustodial parent. If that fails, service by publication is allowed, which means LCSAs {local child support agencies} can publish the notice of the complaint in the newspaper.  Substitute service and service by publication make it possible that noncustodial parents are not aware of the legal proceeding being brought against them. [4]

County of Los Angeles v. Navarro (2004) provides an example of this procedure and the false paternity establishments that it creates.  Navarro was subject to a default judgement of paternity and child support:

In March 1996, the Bureau of Family Support Operations in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office (the County) filed a complaint to establish the paternity and child support obligations of “Manuel Nava” for two boys born in December 1995 who had been receiving public assistance. The County attempted substitute service of the complaint in May 1996 by leaving a copy at appellant’s address with “Jane Doe,” listed as “sister” and “co-tenant” and serving a copy by first class mail. … Appellant did not answer the complaint and the County took his default in July 1996. The court thereafter entered judgment establishing appellant’s paternity and ordered him to pay $247 in monthly child support. [5]

Navarro denied having ever received the notice.  He never established a relation with the two boys and consistently denied being their father.  A paternity test performed about 2001 established beyond reasonable doubt that Navarro was not in fact the boys’ father.  Los Angeles County nonetheless persisted in attempting to collect from Navarro past due and ongoing child support payments.  In this case, a courageous Court of Appeal declared:

The County, a political embodiment of its citizens and inhabitants, must always act in the public interest and for the general good. It should not enforce child support judgments it knows to be unfounded. And in particular, it should not ask the courts to assist it in doing so. Despite the Legislature’s clear directive that child support agencies not pursue mistaken child support actions, the County persists in asking that we do so. We will not sully our hands by participating in an unjust, and factually unfounded, result. We say no to the County, and we reverse. [6]

The state of California quickly sought to minimize the value of this precedent.[7]  Default judgments serve state interests in generating child-support financial obligations.[8]  Quickly establishing child-support orders, even without good information about the alleged father, is a particularly potent source of financial claims.  That’s because child-support debts cannot be retroactively expunged, even with a finding that paternity was falsely established through default judgement against a man who had no relationship with the child.[9]  Child support agencies declare paternity and order child support payments with little regard for truth and justice under law.[10]

Legal notifications of alleged paternity also misrepresent knowledge.  For example, Michael Turner, who subsequently suffered repeated incarcerations for child-support debt, began his legal ordeal by receiving a paternity notification:

The Child Support Enforcement Division (Division), pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. Section 20-7-9505 et seq., notifies you that:

1. You are the natural father of and have a duty to support and provide for the medical needs of the following child(ren)

B.L.P. [Date Of Birth Omitted]

born to Rebecca L. Price and in the custody of Rebecca L. Price. [11]

Despite its affirmative statement “You are the natural father,” the Child Support Enforcement Division did not know, either through testimony that was subject to rebuttal or through reliable technological means, that Turner was the natural father of B.L.P.  The document implicitly acknowledged that reality through a complex and intimidating description of a procedure for objecting.  Turner did not object.  Thus a misrepresentation of knowledge of biological paternity produced a legal establishment of legal paternity.  That’s the typical effect of paternity notifications to which the alleged father acquiesces.

Men, with good evolutionary and practical reasons, are keenly interested in who their biological children are.  Modern paternity testing technology can easily remove reasonable doubt about paternity and eliminate false legal attributions of paternity.  Paternity establishment practices unjustly keep men ignorant about true biological paternity.

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[1] Being in a hospital with a mother at the time she gives birth is a emotionally potent time for securing a legal affirmation of paternity:

The man’s presence in the hospital to be with “his” baby is called the “magic moment” and the child support bureaucracy openly exploits it as the best opportunity to get a paternity acknowledgment with no questions asked.

Henry (2006) p. 59.

[2] Federal incentives to state child support agencies strength those interests.  Henry (2006) pp. 53-5.  The New York State Division of Child Enforcement trains hospital personnel in administering acknowledgement of paternity.  The Division of Child Enforcement also produces an emotionally manipulative public information brochure on paternity establishment through voluntary acknowledgement of paternity.  The brochure features images of cute babies and a father hugging his young daughter.  The brochure highlights this statement:

Every child has two parents and needs emotional and financial support from both parents — even if they never married or currently live apart.

Most fathers provide emotional and financial support to their children without being compelled to do so under law.  Legal paternity is clearly not necessary for a father to provide emotional and financial support to a child.  Moreover, public policy does not favor two-parent families over single-parent families. Public policy does, however, favor extracting money by force of law, mainly from men, under the guise of “child support.” In California family law, the local child support agency pays hospitals $10 for each acknowledgement of paternity filed with the child support agency.  See California Family Code, Section 7571(c).

[3] In California in March, 2000, 71% of child support obligors with arrears had at least one child support order established by default judgment.  About the year 2000, default judgments accounted for above 50% of child-support orders in seven states, including the states of Washington and Arizona.  Sorensen et al. (2003) Report 5-10; Henry (2006) p. 53; Legler (2003) p. 15.  Oklahoma child support agency records in 2007 suggest that 25% of paternities with child support orders are established through default judgements.  Wade (2008).  In fiscal year 2009, child-support agencies established 1.8 million paternities of children of unmarried mothers.  See U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement, FY 2009 Annual Report to Congress, Tables 71 and 72.

[4] Sorensen et al. (2003) Report 5-10.

[5] County of Los Angeles v. Navarro, 14 Cal. Rptr. 3d 905 – Cal: Court of Appeal, 2nd Appellate Dist., 8th Div. 2004, at 906.

[6] Id at 907.  The details of the case stated above are from the court’s opinion.

[7] The Los Angeles County child-support agency petitioned the California Supreme Court to depublish the Navarro ruling so that it could not be used as precedent.  See “Court asked to ‘depublish’ child-support ruling,” Washington Times, Aug. 18, 2004.  The California Supreme Court denied that request.  Shortly thereafter the County of Fresno, California, represented by the extraordinarily formidable legal team of Bill Lockyer, {California} Attorney General, Thomas R. Yanger, {California} Assistant Attorney General, Margarita Altamirano and James Ching, Deputy Attorneys General, won a court ruling against Celestino Sanchez, Jr., who was acting as his own lawyer.  The appeals court, which state official probably carefully selected, went out of its way to disparage the Navarro ruling:

In light of this comprehensive statutory scheme for setting aside a judgment of paternity when otherwise established procedural rules would not permit relief, it must be concluded that section 7645, et seq., vitiates County of Los Angeles v. Navarro. The amorphous equitable considerations and general policies relied on in Navarro must give way to the later enacted detailed procedure.

County of Fresno v. Sanchez, 37 Cal. Rptr. 3d 192 – Cal: Court of Appeal, 5th Appellate Dist. 2005, at 195.

[8] A default judgement establishes paternity simply through an unmarried mother’s declaration to a child support agency that some man is the child’s father.  If a mother has slept with multiple men within the biological window of conception plausibly resulting in a birth, a mother may not have a reasonable basis for knowing who the child’s father is.  Child support agencies do not diligently evaluate whether a claimed father is plausibly the biological father.  Thus a man who never met a mother and lives far from her can receive an official notification that he is the father of her child.  See Welch (2004).

[9] County of Los Angeles v. James (2007), 152 Cal.App.4th 253 , 60 Cal.Rptr. 3d 880.  See also Wade (2008).

[10] Henry (2006) forcefully argues for legal reform.  Child-support agencies sponsor much research on child support.  But they don’t sponsor research like id.

[11] Turner v. Rogers, Brief of Respondent, App. 1a-6a. South Carolina Department of Social Services, Child Support Enforcement Division, Notice of Financial Responsibility and Paternity Determination, issued to Michael Turner.


Henry, Ronald K. 2006. “The Innocent Third Party: Victims of Paternity Fraud.” Family Law Quarterly. 40 (1): 51.

Legler, Paul. 2003. “Low-Income Fathers and Child Support: Starting Off on the Right Track,” Final Report Prepared for Annie E. Casey Foundation, Baltimore, Maryland, Jan. 30, 2003, Policy Studies Inc.

Sorensen, Elaine, Heather Koball, Kate Pomper, and Chava Zibman. 2003. “Examining Child Support Arrears in California: The Collectibility Study,” March 2003. Urban Institute, Prepared for the California Dept. of Child Support Services.

Wade, Jarrel. 2008.  “Child support law leaves man a default dad.”  Tulsa World.  Tulsa, OK, published 10/13/2008.

Welch, Matt. 2004.  “Injustice by Default.” Reason.  Feb. 2004.

3 thoughts on “paternity establishment: undue influence, misrepresentation & mis-service”

  1. Men lack in the knowledge because they do not take the time to seek it out. They would rather sit on their hands, with their head firmly shoved up between their gluteus maximus & gluteus medius muscles hoping everything will turn out fine, and than just complaining when it doesn’t.

    The vast majority of requests I get come from women who knows a man needing help, than I every get from the men.

  2. I also am a father by default I was able to have the state establish dna confirmation that I am not the childs father and never m0et child. I am sure you have herd it many times, when I had my day in court the attourney general did not wave and said in spite of it I was still responcible for arrears of 13000.00 what do I file to protest this, or can you put me in contact with someone who can help me get this judgement off my name. I mean the court reconizes I am not the father the mother voluntarily relieved me of responcibility as a result of the dna. but the Arizona state says I still am responcible for arrears

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