I witnessed child support almost get ordered against a person who was not the father of the child. I was in court, waiting for my case to be called, when a case was called for a Department of Revenue Hearing. The mother of the child was present and she sat next to the attorney for the Department of Revenue. The alleged father was not present. The attorney immediately asked the magistrate (judge) to enter a default judgment since the father was not present and therefore was not contesting the amount of child support. The magistrate asked if paternity had been established. It was only at that moment that the attorney paused to look through the records. The found the results of the DNA test that confirmed the person listed was not the father of the child. He showed the results to the mother, who seemed completely unaffected by the news, and announced the results to the magistrate. The case was dismissed against the alleged father despite his absence at the hearing.
I had several thoughts racing through my mind as I sat in court that morning. First, the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s song Billie Jean came to mind. Before there was Maury, Michael Jackson sang about a woman who thought he was the father of her child. I am not judging the mother for not knowing he was not the father of the child; however, why didn’t she resolve the issue of paternity when the child was first born. It is easier for unwed mothers to remember who they had sex with during or immediately following the pregnancy that years later. Her reaction made me think that she knew that he was not the father of her child but she simply listed him as a potential father anyway. She said that she drove him to the office for the DNA test. Which may be an indication that he already knew he was not the father and simply wanted her to know for sure. Michael Jackson said Billie Jean was not his lover, and maybe this guy was also never had sex with this woman.
Second, if the magistrate had not spoken up and asked about paternity, that man would have been ordered to pay child support for a child that was not his. If the child support was ordered, his paycheck could be deducted to pay the child support. If he failed to pay the child support, his income tax refund could be seized, and his driver’s license could be suspended, and he could have a writ of bodily attachment (similar to a warrant to arrest) issued for him. All of these actions could be taken against him for simply being alleged to have fathered the child.
Third, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible in certain situations, to reverse an order for child support and excuse any unpaid support or refund child support paid. The magistrate could have easily ordered him to pay child support without questioning the paternity and the burden would have fallen on him to correct the mistake and reverse the error. There could have been months of child support ordered against him before he was aware of the order and he may have been forced to pay the child support for that time period despite that fact he is not the father. All of this could have easily been avoided if he had simply shown up to court to say he is not the father of the child. All parties who are have notice of pending court proceedings should always appear to ensure their rights are protected.
Fourth, I thought about the requirements for the Department of Revenue force mothers to name someone to be the father, even if she knows he is not the father, for her to continue to receive benefits. Under Florida Statute 409.2563, the Department of Revenue can file to establish child support on behalf of an applicant or recipient of public assistance, a former recipient of public assistance, or the child. If a mother refuses to cooperate, she might be prevented from receiving public assistance including housing benefits, food stamps, Medicaid, etc. This can force a mother to name someone, even knowing that person is not the father of the child, so she can continue to receive benefits for herself and the child. This mother who appeared in court may have told the alleged father to simply cooperate and take the DNA test so she could continue to receive her benefits.
Maybe she knows the real father of the child and does not want the child to know that person is the father. Maybe she does not know the real father and is simply guessing and hoping for the best. However, wouldn’t it be better to have paternity of children of all unmarried mothers determined at or near the time of birth to save us all litigation and time?