Emerging Issues in Paternity Establishment: Symposium Summary. Discussant: Linda Elrod


Elrod argues that genetic parentage is being given disproportionate weight today. Perhaps because it can be known, arguments favoring a strict "sperm for liability" agenda unduly discount legal and social parenting, she suggests. It is important to ensure a man who impregnates a woman takes responsibility for any resulting child. Child support matters. Emotional support matters. However, legal relationships between parents and children are formed through marriage, adoption, acknowledgement, consent to artificial insemination of a spouse, and judicial decree. Elrod disagreed that the law always protects children. Rather, it is the interest of parents that are favored.

Elrod pointed out the limitations of the analogy to adoption. In adoption, the lack of biological relationship is a known from the beginning; therefore dissolving the parent-child relationship is allowed in only the rarest of circumstances  akin to a termination of parental rights, not paternity disestablishment. Despite all the above, the underpinning of voluntary paternity acknowledgement laws is that the man signing the acknowledgment is the child's biological parent. Although used that way, the statute is not intended to be an expedited "step-parent" adoption process. Accordingly, the discussant proffered that the child and putative father should be genetically tested at the hospital at the child's birth. The decision to acknowledge would be made without false pretense  whether it is an acknowledgment to assume parental rights or to sign them away so the child may be adopted by another. Universal genetic testing at birth would ensure that the social bond later formed between child and father could not be broken through a disestablishment claim. Using this simple, low-cost testing would also protect low-income men from an improper financial burden.

Despite support for universal genetic testing at the outset, Elrod asserted that social relationships with children who are not genetically related are undervalued. Policies should be examined to strengthen, for example, responsibilities to step-children. Limiting the scope of future inquiries to legal and biological parents, may miss and inadvertently or purposefully undermine the critical role of established social relationships.

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