COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) â€” A new state law that took effect Friday allows a man to sue to end his child support payments if genetic testing proves he is not the father.
``Ohio no longer rewards mothers who lie about who the father of their baby is,'' said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Peter Lawson Jones.
Like most states, Ohio had relied on a 500-year-old English common-law doctrine presuming a man is the legal father of any child born to his wife during their marriage. The doctrine existed because in medieval England a child shown to be illegitimate would have virtually no rights.
Family court Judge Yvette McGee-Brown said the previous law had its benefits because it allowed only a year for men to challenge paternity.
``The longer a man delays the harder it will be to find the real father,'' she said.
Proponents of the new law included men who missed the one-year deadline because they were misled into believing they had fathered their ex-wives' children. They can now ask a court to stop support payments and waive arrears.
Opponents of the change argued that judges still should be able to protect the child's interests by maintaining a support obligation even if a DNA test disproved paternity.
According to the National Association of State Legislators only Colorado, Iowa and Louisiana have passed similar paternity laws. Most states have policies like one in California to forbid ``inquiries into the child's paternity that would be destructive of family integrity and privacy.''
Dennis Caron, 44, testified before a Senate committee in support of Jones' bill. Caron got a DNA test after his divorce that he said proved he wasn't the father of a boy he thought was his son.
He sued to end paying child support after his ex-wife cut off his contact with the child, but a judge refused to lift his obligation and jailed him for contempt.
After an eight-year legal battle, Caron is now suing his ex-wife for fraud in an attempt to collect over $100,000 in past support payments and legal expenses.
Geraldine Jensen, president of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support, says Ohio has caught up with science.
``We have women that are separated but not divorced who become pregnant by another man during the separation,'' she said. ``Under the old law, the court was bound to list the man she was still married to as the child's father.''
Critics say the new law will disrupt children's lives and ruin families financially. Officials said it also will cost the government an undetermined amount of money to pay for DNA tests and legal work involved in welfare cases, in which county agencies rely on child support as reimbursement.
``The deception causes more disruption in the long run,'' Jones argued.
The Legislative Budget Office, while acknowledging the lack of precise records, predicts that fewer than 1,000 men will successfully challenge support orders each year in Ohio under the law.
On the Net:
Association for Children for Enforcement of Support: http://www.childsupport-aces.org
Parents and Children for Equality: http://www.pacegroup.org