Fatherhood Activists Push For New Paternity Laws

Posted December 4, 2009 at 6:26pm

A downtown advocacy group is trying to recast the meaning of the phrase, “Who’s your daddy?—

Started more than a decade ago by a scorned husband, the American Coalition for Fathers and Children is readying itself for a lobbying campaign to pressure lawmakers to establish national paternity DNA testing requirements for children of unmarried parents.

“The current statutes provide for voluntary acknowledgement of paternity,— ACFC Executive Director Michael McCormick said. “What we’re finding is that a number of men around the country who are signing those acknowledgements are finding out that they’re not necessarily the father.—

In 2010, McCormick’s group is planning to bring jilted ex-husbands and boyfriends to Capitol Hill to rally support for a possible amendment to pending legislation, the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act. McCormick wants an amendment to that bill that would create a federal paternity-testing mandate. The bill itself is sponsored by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) — along with 30 co-sponsors. But the amendment has yet to garner any support.

Under his proposal, McCormick said that “in cases of unmarried parentage, DNA would be made available before the assigning of child support orders, so that the proper parent is being identified for child support.— McCormick also said complicated requirements involving federal assistance claims often leave kids calling the wrong guy “Dad.—

“We also have situations when a woman applies for public welfare, where she has to name a father, and oftentimes child support orders are given to them by default, and they have no opportunity to contest paternity if they have a default order,— he said.

When the grass-roots ACFC lobbyists come to town next year, they will bring their frustrations with current paternity requirements and public assistance reimbursement guidelines directly to Capitol Hill. McCormick said these laws “drive one of the parents away in order to keep the revenue flowing.—

The low-flying group has three employees and has an operating budget of roughly $300,000 per year. Individual contributions constitute its primary funding source, he said, and the bulk of its donors are husbands, fathers, siblings, grandparents and second wives who have grown frustrated with the family court process.

McCormick has been involved with the group for 12 years. Although he declined to indicate whether personal considerations led to his involvement, he said the organization germinated from Board Chairman David Robert’s personal frustrations with a court process, which apparently strained relationships with his own children.

Actor Alec Baldwin is also lending some star-power to the organization. The “30 Rock— comedian has been embroiled in a high-profile child custody dispute in recent years and recently signed on as a celebrity spokesman for the coalition. In a recent copy of the group’s newsletter, “The Liberator: America’s Shared Parenting Quarterly,— Baldwin criticized current statutes that he argued minimize paternal involvement.

“In the vast majority of cases the marginalized parent is Dad. The result is that fatherlessness is rampant in America,— Baldwin recently wrote. “And every credible statistic shows that fatherlessness is the common denominator for just about every social ill we face as a society.—

“It shouldn’t be that way,— Baldwin continued. “It doesn’t have to be that way.—

Although his group does not employ a lobbyist, trade organizations and several paternity testing outfits may soon find themselves the unintended beneficiaries of McCormick’s legwork.

On its Web site, DNA Diagnostics Center boasts that it performs 75 percent of the nation’s paternity tests, and its volume could obviously spike if a federal mandate is enacted. Still, a laboratory spokesman said the Ohio-based firm does not lobby and the proposal is not on its radar.

“We haven’t gotten into the lobbying business,— DNA Diagnostics Center spokesman Jim Hanigan said.

A spokeswoman for the American Association of Blood Banks — the trade and accreditation group representing paternity-testing firms, as well as blood banking and transfusion facilities — said the group is not actively lobbying for McCormick’s paternity-testing mandate.

Going it alone, McCormick appears to have a pretty heavy lift in front of him. Making matters worse, Bayh’s office declined to comment on the paternity-testing mandate, and the bill’s chief House sponsor flatly shot it down Friday.

“Our bill is trying to remove barriers for individuals to become more responsible fathers,— Davis said. “There are laws already on the books relative to paternity and child support.—

He continued: “I’m not with that deal, that’s not our focus — we’re carrot-oriented, not stick-oriented.—