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“Duped Dad” Laws: Legal Consequences of Paternity Fraud

The increasingly visible problem of paternity fraud has prompted a number of states to consider passing laws on the issue.  The proposed bills, commonly known as “duped dad” laws, generally address situations where a man questions whether he is the father and wants paternity testing, or where he claims he was wrongfully deceived into believing he was the biological father of a child.

People have lobbied state legislatures for these laws after hearing of situations such as Frank Hatley’s in Atlanta Georgia. Hatley spent more than a year in jail after failing to make support payments to a child that is not his. Multiple paternity tests established that he is not the child’s father, but he continued to partially pay his ordered child support obligations for nine years until he recently lost his job and became homeless. The state considers him a deadbeat dad, and holds him accountable for more than $16,000 in support.

While many regard Hatley’s situation as an injustice, paternity fraud remains a sensitive issue.  While a “Duped dad” garners sympathy, many people believe the child to be the real victim, and the least culpable.  In states that grant relief to a “duped dad,” a child can simultaneously lose his or her father as well as needed financial support. The balance between a defrauded man’s rights and the minor child’s best interests remains an impasse for many states who have considered creating such laws.

Missouri is one state that has attempted to address the problem. In 2009, Missouri passed Senate Bill 141, allowing men to obtain paternity testing at any time before a child turns 18 years old. The bill also permits men to petition the court to set aside all judgments and support orders after learning they aren’t the father. It also provides that men may recover support paid for the previous five years once they learn they have been paying child support for a child who isn’t theirs.

In 2009, Michigan introduced similar legislation (HB 4061) to amend the Support and Parenting Time Enforcement Act (MCL 552.601 – 552.650) to allow an individual to file a motion for relief from a court order stating that the individual is a child’s father or that requires the individual to pay child support. The amendment allows the court to set aside such orders only if it finds that the individual is not an adoptive parent and DNA testing proves that the individual filing the motion is not the father. If the individual seeking relief knew six months prior to filing the motion that genetic testing precluded him from being the father, the court may not grant the motion. Similarly, if the individual seeking relief took certain actions after he knew he was not the father (such as filing an Affidavit of Parentage, allowing his name to be added to a birth certificate, or holds himself out to be or acknowledges that he is the father), he will be precluded from obtaining judicial relief. If the court grants the motion, however, it may retroactively modify child support to eliminate arrearages. The amendment also requires the mother to reimburse the “duped” dad for all child support payments received. Alternatively, should the grant deny the motion, mother would be entitled to her costs and attorney fees.