OLYMPIA – Courts would be forced to consider DNA evidence that shows a man is not the father of a child before he can be ordered to pay child support under a state Senate bill that aims to stop paternity fraud in Washington.
The bill also would allow a man to challenge an established paternity ruling and stop paying child support if a DNA test shows he’s not the father.
“It would no longer allow the courts to deny an appeal when a DNA test clearly shows that you’re not the father of a child,” Shawn West, of Spokane, told the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Monday.
In 1998, West was ordered to start paying child support to an ex-girlfriend even though he doubted he was the father of her child. He had 90 days to appeal the Spokane County Superior Court decision.
“I went and got a DNA test the next day,” he said.
It showed he wasn’t the father, and West and his lawyer eventually had the order overturned. But under current law, that wouldn’t have been possible if the child was older than 3. The bill would change that, allowing men to challenge paternity with a DNA test at any point.
“They’re appalled – rightfully so, I think – that they’re being forced to pay for somebody else’s kid,” said Kingsley Morse, a former reproductive rights advocate with the National Center for Men. He said other states are enacting laws to allow DNA tests to overturn child support orders.
David Ward, an opponent to the bill, said the change may help some men get out of child support payments, but hurt the children who would stop receiving them.
“We believe the focus should be on the child, and keeping certainty and security in the children’s lives,” Ward said.
Committee staff were asked to check on the number of people the bill would affect, and whether the proposed change would harm the state’s eligibility for federal child support enforcement money before the panel votes on the legislation.