Bill could let men sever child support with DNA test results

Staff writerJanuary 20, 2014 

A female lawmaker from Port Orchard says men in Washington are being unfairly forced to pay child support for children who aren’t theirs, and the state should let them escape that burden.

A measure introduced by state Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, would allow a man to challenge his status as a child’s legal parent in court if genetic tests prove he is not the father.

Current law in Washington generally only gives fathers four years to challenge a child’s parentage, and assumes a man is the father if he was married to the child’s mother close to the child’s birth date.

Angel’s bill would let a man try to sever his legal ties to a child at any time within two years of learning he is not the child’s biological father — whether the child’s age is 5 or 15.

If a man’s request to sever paternity were granted by a judge, he would no longer have to pay child support for the child, even if he previously acknowledged himself to be the parent or was married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth.

“When a man has found out through genetic testing that a child is not his child, he has no recourse,” Angel said Monday during a hearing for the bill. “There is no way for him to go through the process to actually get out from under paying child support that isn’t his.”

Senate Bill 5997 would also forbid judges from denying a man’s request for a DNA test on the grounds that it could hurt the child. The measure would instead establish that genetic paternity testing is always in the child’s best interest.

A handful of men who said they were duped into paying child support for another man’s child testified in favor of the bill Monday before the Senate Law & Justice Committee.

Andrew Evans of Bremerton said he was 19 when his girlfriend told him she was pregnant with his child. He said he later learned the child wasn’t his, but he still has to pay his ex hundreds of dollars a month in child support. Those payments are hurting Evans’ two biological children and the stepchild he supports today, he said.

“This system is unjust,” Evans told members of the committee. “The current laws have legalized my indentured slavery to this woman.”

Some committee members questioned the wisdom of letting parents bow out of parenthood at any point in a child’s life. Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said that if a 7-year-old child has grown up calling someone Dad, it could be damaging to the child if that person simply disappears. A man can be a child’s “psychological parent” even if he and the child are not biologically related, Kline said.

“Have you considered the difference this makes to the child as opposed to the difference this makes to the father?” Kline asked Angel.

The family law section of the Washington State Bar Association is opposing the bill on similar grounds, attorney Rick Bartholomew testified Monday. Also opposing the bill were Equal Rights Washington and Legal Voice, a women’s rights group based in Seattle.

“This bill could result (in a child) losing someone they’ve known as a parent for long time,” said David Ward of Legal Voice, adding: “We do not look solely to biology to determine if someone is a parent in Washington.”

Ward said the law must consider whether a person has cared for a child on a day-to-day basis and formed a parent-child bond when determining parenthood.

Angel said fathers can still opt to care for a child even if they've found out they're not the child’s biological father. Fathers would not be forced to ask the court for a termination of parental rights if they don't want to, she said.

Fundamentally, though, she said state law sets up "a very inequitable situation for a man."

"Does this mean we don’t care about children? No, not at all,” Angel said. "But we must look at the facts and the fairness and the equity of this.”

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