Posts filed under ‘Paternity’

Immigrant Family Law Rights

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By Shahzad R. Khan, Esq.

People come to America seeking new opportunities, new ways of life, and seeking new forms of freedoms. They come with a certain understanding of America. But, they do not understand everything. They come with certain misconceptions that they heard from family members or friends who had previously made the journey. But the most common thing about all immigrants is that they come to America, or to any other new country, with a fear of the unknown.

When the pilgrims left for the new world, they feared what lied ahead. The immigrants who passed through Ellis Island had those same fears. And immigrants arriving today through JFK, O’Hare, LAX or any of the hundreds of ports of entry share many of the same fears as the first immigrants of this country did.

I know these fears, because both my parents were immigrants. I also know these fears because my wife is an immigrant. There is a real fear of the unknown. There is a fear about asking questions. There is a fear about taking action. And there is a great fear that if I do take action, there will be a penalty. Sometimes people from all sorts of cultural communities remain silent about an injustice because of the fear of retribution and the fear that if I ask questions or raise questions that scrutiny will be focused on me and that somehow my immigration status will be jeopardized.

Whether you are a green card holder, a person with asylum status, a person with refugee status or no status at all you do still have rights. You have human rights and rights under the laws of this country and its 50 states.

In family law, the area that I practice in, you have the following legal rights regardless of your immigration status:

Obtaining a Divorce: A divorce is the process by which two people terminate a marriage. Whether you were married in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or any other country in the world you can petition the court for a divorce in the State of Illinois or any of the other states where appropriate. Remember a person’s immigration status is usually irrelevant when seeking a divorce. There are technical issues that need to be considered before you file for divorce such as residency requirements for the individual state, issues pertaining to whether your current immigration status may be affected by divorce, and grounds necessary to dissolve the marriage. It is important that you consult an attorney before you make a decision to proceed in this direction.

Obtaining an Order of Protection: An Order of Protection is a court order that protects a person who has been abused physically, emotionally, or sexually by a family member, a former or current spouse or significant other or a member of the household. Orders of Protection are not only obtained for adults, but also for the protection of children. Again, no matter what your immigration status may be, there is no restriction in obtaining an order of protection for protection against domestic violence.

Paternity and Child Support: You have the right to determine whether you are the father of a minor child born out of wedlock. The process of determining fatherhood is done through the use of DNA testing of the mother, the alleged father and the child. If paternity is determined, meaning the alleged male is determined to be the father of the minor child, then the custodial parent of that child has the right to seek child support from the non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent has the right to seek visitation, custody (joint or sole custody) to meet the best interests of the minor child. Again, no matter what your immigration status may be, there is no restriction on filing a petition to determine parentage and to establish parental rights.

Besides the rights stated above, there a numerous other rights that immigrants possess in not only family law but in other areas of law. The key here is to ask questions and not be afraid to ask for help. It is not what you know that can hurt you, but what you do not know. Therefore, study the legal system and educate yourself so you do not end up a target looking for an arrow. Should you need help in any family law matter or you just have some general questions, please contact Attorney Shahzad R. Khan at the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving, Ltd., to discuss your rights.

March 4, 2009 at 6:50 pm Leave a comment

The PATERNITY Question-New Research, Increased Use of DNA Testing Fueling Debate on Paternity Fraud Laws

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by Cheryl Macdonald
A study released last month by Liverpool John Moores University in England suggests that 1 in 25 fathers could unknowingly be raising another man’s child. The study concludes that 4 percent of all men are unwittingly bringing up a child they have not fathered.

These statistics are in line with figures available in the U.S. A report issued by the American Association of Blood Banks in 2000 found that nearly 30 percent of paternity tests conducted in the U.S. reveal that the man being tested is not the biological father. Partially as a result of the availability of DNA paternity testing, thousands of fathers every year are discovering that “their” child is someone else’s.

This situation has raised many serious legal questions. Many of these “duped dads” continue to be liable for child support for other men’s children. Are they still responsible? What kind of compensation do these fathers deserve and what punishment, if any, do mothers who intentionally misidentified the father deserve?

More importantly than the legal and financial issues, there are significant emotional consequences when the truth about paternity is revealed. While many men challenging paternity have little or no relationship with their children, some men have loved and raised these children from the day they were born. Finding out the truth about paternity can be emotionally devastating for both “father” and child.

These questions and concerns are at the heart of an ongoing debate about paternity fraud legislation. In the wake of the new technology, the courts have been flooded with ex-husbands and unwed fathers trying to disestablish paternity for children a DNA test proves are not theirs.

But the laws on the books on most states are based on a 500-year-old English common-law doctrine that a married man is always legally presumed the father of a child born of the marriage.

The situation for unmarried men is not much better. They can be ordered to pay child support for children they did not father through default paternity and child support judgments without the alleged father’s knowledge.

Carnell A. Smith turned his personal battle against paternity into a crusade. In 2002, Smith, founder and executive director of U.S. Citizens Against Paternity Fraud, helped pass paternity fraud legislation in his home state of Georgia.

Smith’s case was one of the most high-profile paternity fraud cases to date. Smith, represented by noted Chicago attorney and fathers’ rights advocate Jeffery Leving, even petitioned the Supreme Court to hear his case. Although the Court ultimately denied his request, his case helped bring the issue into the national spotlight.

All told approximately 12 states currently have some form of paternity fraud law that permits a man who learns he is not the child’s biological father to legally disestablish paternity. Several of these are open-ended, such that the man can file his motion to vacate his paternity at any time after the child’s birth. Others have a stricter statute of limitations of two to three years. The statutes also vary with in regards to whether child support arrearages can be erased and also ongoing visitation and parenting time.

However, currently no states allow “duped dads” to be compensated for child support already paid. And although advocates in some states, such as Illinois and Vermont, have introduced bills criminalizing paternity fraud – there are still no real consequences for women who intentionally misidentify the father of their child.
Advocates of paternity fraud legislation see these restrictions on paternity legislations as a grave injustice.

“Ignoring paternity fraud is not different than ignoring DNA testing showing a convicted murderer wasn’t guilty of murder,” said Leving. “Paternity fraud is just as reprehensible as many other kinds of fraud from which Americans need protection. Whenever there is an unlawful, unconstitutional taking of money, those monies should be returned. And even if they can’t be returned, there should be a law that they must be returned. Without that, where is the morality in our society in allowing any type of fraud to exist and allowing the wrongdoer to keep the profits of their actions?”

But opponents argue paternity fraud legislation imperils children by voiding a parent-child relationship that could provide essential emotional and financial support.

“Paternity fraud statutes—predicated on enhanced and cheaper genetic testing—are being used to destroy established, functional families,” stated feminist law professor Melanie Jacobs in a recent article in Amicus, a publication from MSU College of Law. “Simply because we have the means to determine biological parentage with greater certainty does not mean that it is in the best interests of children to do so.”

Some in favor of paternity fraud legislation dismiss claims that tougher laws will allow “duped dads” to legally abandon “their” children. Instead they cite the many cases in which the “dad” does not want to abandon the child he has come to love as his own, but feels pushed out by the system. In one Texas case, the judge ordered a man to pay child support for another man’s three children and cut off his visitation with all of the children.

Advocates for fathers seeking disestablishment of paternity say that the biological fathers should support their children. They contend making men pay child support for the children proven by DNA testing not to be theirs is not in the best interests of children and can deprive children of ever knowing their true biological fathers.

Even with all the heated moral and legal arguments on both sides, ultimately, it might all come down to money. State governments have a vested financial interest in curbing paternity disestablishment. If men who are paying child support no longer have to and authorities can’t find the real fathers, welfare agencies will get the bill for family assistance. Also, under federal guidelines, states must identify the fathers of children whose mothers are receiving benefits or risk losing federal incentive money. In addition, states receive federal funding on child-support orders. Because federal rules do not require DNA testing to prove paternity, states have no incentive to demand accuracy in establishing paternity

In 2002, former California governor Gray Davis vetoed paternity fraud legislation for his state, claiming that the state might not meet federal requirements on collecting child-support payments, putting the state at risk of losing $40 million in federal funds.

In the end it might be easier for child support agencies to financially squeeze the “duped dad” than to find the biological dad, who may not even know he has a child and would welcome the opportunity to step up to the plate and be Dad.

March 2, 2009 at 9:48 pm Leave a comment


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