Emerging Issues in Paternity Establishment: Symposium Summary. Discussant: Esther Wattenberg


Wattenberg suggested that Paul Melli from the University of Wisconsin "cracked the code" on what it is that provides resiliency for children in adverse circumstances  a sunny temperament, combined with a decent IQ, and someone who cared about them. This intuitive common sense should be kept in mind when thinking about paternity disestablishment. One missing piece of the discussion is: what is the origin of paternity disestablishment? Does it come from an American belief that if we are not happy we should do something about it? Or from a propensity to abandon lifelong obligations that prove difficult, such as caring for a disabled child? Or the belief that we can help social policy by finding out who can and cannot pay child support?

Wattenberg noted that although long-standing research supports the notion of an in-hospital paternity acknowledgment program, genetic parenting does matter. It matters when children are young, when they are adults, and particularly on health issues. There are thus three themes from child welfare that might be helpful in structuring paternity disestablishment policy. First, emphasize stability. Expect initial decisions to remain constant but build in a thorough court review for the exceptional cases. Second, do a better job of getting it right at the front end. Third, consider using family-group decision making and expanded family resources to provide a sense of child well-being beyond the nuclear family.

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