LOS ANGELES – Computer instructor Bert Riddick works hard to provide for his wife and three children — a job that would be a lot simpler if the government wasn’t forcing him to support another child he’s never met.
DNA testing has proved Riddick isn’t the father. But under California state law, a man designated by the courts as a child’s father — regardless of biology — is expected to financially support that child.
"I’m not a father to that kid. All I am is a paycheck to that child," he said.
California Assemblyman Roderick Wright has introduced a bill challenging that law, arguing that if DNA proves the person in question isn’t the parent, he isn't responsible.
"Imagine that you have children of your own and half or more of your income is going to pay for children who are not yours," Wright said. "That’s unfair."
But family law attorney Jenny Skoble disagrees, contending the child’s needs should take precedence over the adult’s rights.
"The harm done to the child from being left without a father and without support is greater than the harm done to the man who has to pay support for a child that’s not biologically his," Skoble said.
Riddick said the law has done tremendous damage to his life. His child support documents say he owes $100,000 in arrears and payments; at one stage, he said, the government was taking $1,500 a month out of his paycheck.
"It’s ruined my marriage, created havoc for my children," he said. "I’ve lost my home because of this, I’ve lost my right to drive because of this. The financial side of this has had a dramatic effect."
And it isn’t himself he’s most concerned about, he added.
"It’s definitely not fair to my wife and kids who are being deprived," Riddick said. "They had to move out of their home because of this."
Supporters of the law say it’s meant to protect children who will ultimately be the ones to suffer and live in poverty if they aren’t supported.
"It’s essentially the father’s interests lined up against the child’s," Skoble said. "Society will usually come down on the side of the child and say yes, it may seem unfair and yes, you were lied to, but this is an issue of public policy, of the welfare of children."
Others believe that the biological fathers should be the ones held accountable, not the ones who were deceived into paying child support.
"We don’t allow for the random selection of criminals," he said. "We shouldn’t allow for the random selection of fathers."
So far 12 states have either passed or are considering legislation allowing men armed with DNA evidence to challenge paternity judgments.