Academic journal article Ave Maria Law Review

You Ain't My Baby Daddy: The Problem of Paternity Fraud and Paternity Laws

Academic journal article Ave Maria Law Review

You Ain't My Baby Daddy: The Problem of Paternity Fraud and Paternity Laws

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Men are trading in parental status for money and doing so with the permission of the courts. In R.A.C. v. P.J.S. (1) the New Jersey Superior Court allowed such behavior by construing the discovery rule to allow a victim of paternity fraud to pursue a claim for the reimbursement of child-rearing expenses against the biological father of the child. (2) The August, 2005, decision held that this statutory right--to sue the biological father for reimbursement of certain funds expended in the raising of the child--extended even to some expenditures after the child had reached the age of majority. (3) The facts of R.A.C. deviated from the majority of paternity disputes in that the child was thirty years old at the time of the proceedings and had been raised exclusively by the mother and R.A.C., who was not the biological father. (4) Rather than centering its decision on the family unit and the bond between father and son, the court focused on the fraud perpetuated by the mother and biological father and utilized equitable tolling to allow the putative father to bring suit thirty years after the birth of the son. (5) By construing statutes in ways that allow such results, courts effectively encourage men to question the paternity of their children and to seek remedies that will be harmful to the children.

Paternity fraud occurs when a mother makes a representation to a man that the child is genetically his own even though she is aware that he is not, or may not be, the father of the child. (6) Paternity fraud has existed for centuries (7) and has become a widespread problem today. At common law, paternity was presumed when the man was the husband of the mother, (8) but modern courts have begun to abandon such an approach. (9) Under the common law, any child born into an existing marriage was presumed to be the legitimate child of the husband, absent certain circumstances. (10) This presumption was not absolute, but rather a rebuttable presumption, provided that the husband could demonstrate contrary evidence. More specifically, a man would have to prove that his parenting the child was impossible by demonstrating sterility, lack of access during the conception period, or impotence. (11) By allowing the man to contest paternity without a showing of these traditional means of refutation, the R.A.C. decision demonstrates how far the courts have moved since the days of the common law. (12) The move away from the common law presumption is a positive step due to modern technology and the protection of a putative father's rights, but moving too far will result in negative effects such as the destruction of households, especially as children are left confused about their true parentage. The courts must reach a middle ground between the harsh presumption of paternity and the lax modern rules that allow suits to be pursued at almost any time after the birth of the child. The courts must balance the rights of the putative father with those of the child in order to develop a law that is fair and that will enable children to be happy and healthy members of society. As discussed in this Note, current paternity laws are failing in their purpose, and new laws must be enacted to protect the interests of the children. This Note proposes that a shortened statute of limitations (eighteen months) would alleviate the problems associated with paternity fraud by providing the putative

father ample time to file his suit but not allowing him to file his suit at such a time that it might endanger the child's social and mental well-being.

This Note addresses the trend away from the strict common law presumption of paternity and toward the laxity demonstrated in R.A.C., and it discusses how to minimize the negative effects of this shift. Part I summarizes the common law notions of paternity and the rationale behind the presumption of paternity. Part II briefly summarizes the Supreme Court's rulings that define paternal rights and then gives a brief overview of the prevailing methods of analysis in state courts. …

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