No paternity, no justice

July 30, 2002|By Mark Cloud

ATLANTA - Everybody knows what child support is. It's money you have to pay when you're a parent but your child doesn't live with you.

For instance, if parents are divorced and the child lives with the mother, then the father gives money to the mother every month to help support their son or daughter.

Fair enough.

But what if you're not really a parent? You couldn't be forced to pay child support then, could you? That wouldn't be fair, would it?

Well, consider the case of Carnell Smith, 41, of Georgia. He had a relationship with a woman who told him that she was pregnant and that he was the father. The couple split up, but for 11 years Mr. Smith paid the woman more than $40,000 in child support.

In 2000, the woman asked a court to force Mr. Smith to pay even more money. When the court ordered Mr. Smith to pay more child support, he got DNA blood tests showing that he is not the child's father. Oops.

So Mr. Smith went back to court arguing that he should no longer have to pay support for a child who is not his. A harsh reality, no doubt, since the child is innocent of any wrongdoing. But Mr. Smith's argument sure makes sense. At least it seems to make sense everywhere but in court, where Mr. Smith was ordered to keep paying the child support.

Mr. Smith, who hasn't seen the child since seeking to end the support, applied to take his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Surely he could get some relief there, right?

Wrong. The court has refused to consider Mr. Smith's case. So as it stands now, Mr. Smith has to keep paying child support for two other people's child.

So why would courts allow this to happen? Well, traditionally they've considered the best interests of the child, which is a fine thing to consider in many contexts.

But it's not exactly clear how it's in a child's best interests to force a man who is not the child's father to pay money for the child when the man apparently wants nothing to do with the child.

Unless, of course, it's in the best interests of the child to learn that sometimes grown-ups do funny things, and if you're really lucky, they'll ignore the truth.

Mark Cloud is an attorney who lives in Atlanta.

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