On January 7, 2002, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of Morgan Wise who was ordered by a Texas court to pay child support even though DNA tests confirm he cannot possibly be the father of the boy named in the support order.
Wise’s case started in 1999 when his youngest son, Rauli, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that can occur when both father and mother carry a defective gene. Genetic testing showed, however, that Wise was not a carrier of that gene.
Further paternity tests showed that Wise was the biological father of only one of the four children born during his marriage to Wanda Fryar. The two divorced in 1996.
But as far as family courts in Texas were concerned, the paternity tests were completely irrelevant. Under common law that dates back hundreds of years, all children born within a marriage are presumed to be biologically related to the father, end of story. This may have made a lot of sense when it was literally impossible to prove paternity, but those days are long since past.
States vary widely on when paternity can be disputed. In some states, disputing paternity must be done within the first few years after a child is born. Other states have laws allowing fathers to introduce genetic evidence at any time to avoid paying child support for children whom they are not biologically related.
Jeffery Leving of the Fatherhood Education Institute argues that the Wise’s case represents a sexist approach to the obligations of parenthood. Leving writes,
What would happen if we applied the same twisted logic to a woman married to a man who fathered a child from an extramarital affair? Would we proclaim that because she was married to her husband, she is the legal mother of the child born of the affair and force her to financially support another woman’s child? We would do no such thing, yet there are men who are court ordered to pay in the analogous situation.
Leving notes that Ohio, Colorado, Iowa and Louisiana all have laws which allow men to be released from child support requirements if DNA testing proves they are not the biological father of the children named in support awards. Leving argues that the mothers in these cases should pursue the legitimate fathers of the children for child support, which certainly seems to make a lot more sense than forcing deceived fathers to continue to pay child support.
In genetic testing for paternity, law often lags behind science. Tamar Lewin, The New York Times, March 11, 2001.
U.S. Supreme Court decision ignores men’s rights. Jeffery Leving, Fatherhood Educational Institute, January 15, 2002.