OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma man said he was almost obligated to pay thousands of dollars to support two children who, as it turned out, weren’t even his.
Now his attorney is pushing for changes in DHS policies and state law.
Family law attorney Lawrence Goodwin admits he doesn’t like deadbeat dads who avoid child support but he also doesn’t like deceptive moms.
“I have the same disdain for people who mislead another human being and have them obligated to be a father of a child that they’re not,” Goodwin said.
Six weeks ago, a man contacted him after receiving a child support court order.
Goodwin said the man thought he was the father of his girlfriend’s two children but then the relationship ended.
“The mother indicated that he was (the father), and they (had been) together,” he said.
When one of the children was born, the client signed an “Acknowledgment of Paternity,” which asks “Have you taken a genetic test to determine paternity of this child?”
It also states, “If the genetic test showed you are not the biological father, stop now, do not sign.”
But thinking he was the child’s father, this client signed the form.
The child support clock began ticking.
“You have 60 days to come back and say ‘I made a mistake. It’s not my kid. I took a DNA test’, or ‘she told me the truth and it’s not my child’,” Goodwin said.
After that 60-day deadline, Okla. law states a man would have to prove he was deceived into thinking he was the biological father, by “fraud, duress or material mistake of fact”… within two years.”
So even if a mother lies to the presumed father and the two-year deadline passes, Goodwin said a man is stuck with child support payments for 18 to 20 years.
His client got legal help right at the two-year deadline, on his “child’s” second birthday, and avoided child support payments.
“It was over $60,000 that we calculated over the next 16 to 18 years over these two children’s’ lives that he saved,” fellow family law attorney Andrew Swartberg said.
Jeff Wagner, spokesperson for DHS Child Support Services, advises men, “don’t sign the form if you have any doubts.”
Wagner said the two-year deadline the state imposes is in the child’s best interests.
“If the daddy that I’ve known for more than two years decides that he doesn’t want to be daddy anymore, that’s really devastating for the child,” Wagner said. “They’ve had that extended period of time to develop that relationship and it’s beyond the relationship, it’s also the financial support.”
Goodwin said if a man is married when a child is born, the law presumes the husband to be the biological father.
Goodwin said he would like to see a state law that requires DNA testing from mother, child and presumed father at the time of the child’s birth or he wants the state to remove the two-year child support deadline.
“I don’t know how anyone goes to their wife or their girlfriend who’s just delivered their wonderful child in the hospital and says, ‘by the way, hate to bring this up right now but we really need to get a DNA test,’” he said.
Wagner said DHS offers DNA testing for less than $200 or the test is free if it’s taken at the time of birth and shows the man is not the child’s father.