A West Virginia State Supreme court ruling has the potential to put an end to the wholesale entrapment of men by unscrupulous women who fail to inform them of their pregnancy or the birth of their child.
In many cases, men who have been victimized in this way find out for the first time that they're fathers after they're contacted by the District Attorneys Office or the Office of Support Enforcement (OSE) seeking child support and reimbursement of welfare money paid to the mother. Most of these men are stunned to find out that they have a child, and that they suddenly owe tens of thousands of dollars in back child support.
The State Supreme Court ruling stemmed from a case in which a mother gave her child up fpr adoption against the unwed fathers wishes. Although the case dealt primarily with an adoption issue, the ruling sets precedents for other kinds of cases. One example in which this ruling may be applied is when a woman becomes pregnant from a casual relationship, then conceals the pregnancy and birth from the father. The mother may then collect welfare benefits by claiming the father as "Unknown" on the hospital paperwork. After the welfare benefits run out, the mother contacts the local Office of Support Enforcement and names the previously "unknown" father. OSE, in turn, contacts the father, requesting child support, back child support and reimbursement of all the money paid to the mother from welfare.
Clearly, this entire chain of events is blatantly unfair to the father, who not only is suddenly obligated for thousands of dollars of back child support obligation but who was also denied the opportunity to have a relationship with his own child. It would be nice to say that this kind of incident is uncommon, but the fact is that it is not. It is an all too common occurrence in this day and age.
The State Supreme Court ruling contained several new points of law. The points, precedents for subsequent adoption cases, include:
The instant a child is born, both biological parents, even though not married, have a right to establish a parent-child relationship. An unwed father must, upon learning of the existence of his child, demonstrate his commitment to it by participating in its care, rearing and support, and by starting to establish a meaningful parent-child relationship.
If the father is never informed of the pregnancy or birth of the child then he has been obviously been denied the "right to establish a parent-child relationship". He has also been denied the opportuity to "demonstrate his commitment to it by participating in its care, rearing and support".
Any people who "plot, plan, scheme or otherwise conspire" to intentionally and wilfully conceal information from a parent about a birth or the physical location of a child may be held liable for their participation in the conspiracy.
This would include the mother and anyone who knowingly collaborates with her by not informing the father about the child's existance. In short, this could finally make a mother legally liable for deliberately keeping the father unaware of the child's birth. Unless it can be shown that the mother made a "good faith" attempt to locate and inform the father, she may be held accountable for her deception and fraud.
A parent may sue anyone who interferes with his or her parental or custodial relationship with the child. The court listed the legal points that parent must prove.
Finally, legal recourse for men who have been entrapped in this manner! There can be little question that a man who has been kept unaware that he is a father has had his "parental or custodial relationship" interfered with.
The person who is sued for interference can use as a defense that the interference was justified to protect the child from physical, mental or emotional harm. They also cannot be held liable if they acted negligently rather than intentionally and had a "good faith" belief the interference was proper.
No doubt we can expect a veritable flood of sex-abuse charges and other creative "explanations" from these women as to why the father was kept in the dark, in an attempt to use this particular point to justify their behavior. It's a loophole, but not a very big one.
Anyone who appeals a lower court ruling to the Supreme Court has to post an appeal bond covering the amount of damages they were ordered to pay. If they do not, the appeal will be dismissed, and the lower court ruling will stand.
It's unclear as to how (or even who) this may affect. If this intended for the mother who is found liable, it would be a major obstacle to return to court for an appeal. Based on the potentially huge sums that may be awarded, this may cause women planning this kind of deception to think twice.
The West Virginia Supreme Court's 244-page opinion said, "We do not intend to haphazardly intrude upon a biological mother's right to conduct her pregnancy in the manner in which she, herself, chooses. Nevertheless, we recognize with equal importance the right of a biological father who has 'grasped the opportunity' to establish a relationship with his child, and the corresponding, albeit limited, right of a child to associate with his-her biological father."
(You can read the full text of the original AP article here.)