EDITORIAL TUESDAY 11.11.08.
The modern technology of DNA testing seems to have opened a Pandora’s box when it comes to the question of paternity. Now that it is possible to determine whether or not a man is the biological father of a child that he is told is his, the awful truth has emerged that some men have been deceived and exploited. Further complicating the matter has been the introduction of a legal framework over the years enforcing the payment of child support money, which is only right and proper, but when it turns out to be based on a false claim, then the situation becomes complicated.
It has recently been made legally possible for men to claim back child support money paid for children subsequently proven not to be theirs. So far, 18 men in New South Wales have done so. Hundreds more know they are not the biological father and may also have a claim. It is also likely that thousands more don’t know, and may never know.
Now it seems reasonable for money paid under such false premises to be repaid by the women involved, and that has been the finding of the court in some cases. But this is where it gets complicated. Women’s groups are reported to be outraged, and claim that it is the children who will suffer. Matters are further complicated by the fact that in many cases the children have been brought up thus far believing a particular individual to be their father, and even some of the men themselves have formed a parental bond which carries real emotional significance regardless of the circumstances.
So how do we untangle such a mess?
First, if a government agency has determined that a man should pay, then that agency should carry the liability to reimburse the man. Second, the woman should be liable to the agency for any false claims made. Thirdly, the question of who is responsible for the welfare of such children needs to be made clear.
I suspect that these outraged women who claim that the children will be the ones to suffer, are probably the very same women who proudly assert that a woman’s right to choice is sacrosanct. If we accept that, as our society seems to have done, then it logically follows that women also carry the responsibility. It seems to me that men have been given no right to choice in this matter, until now. If a single woman falls pregnant, our society recognizes her right to choose whether to have the baby or not, but the man has no such choice.
The case of Queenslander Ken Rogers resulted from what was described as a drunken fling. He had no ongoing relationship with the woman, and no contact with the child, and yet paid $71 000 over a decade until he discovered the child is not even his. Now that the court has ordered that he be repaid the money, it might well be true that the child will suffer as a result of the financial impact on his mother, but stop and ask: whose fault is that?
Even if you forgive the mother for making a false claim, whether deliberate or not, it certainly isn’t the fault of Mr. Rogers, the innocent victim of years of deceit.