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Testimony of BFC Attorney Allison Miles-Lee, Bread for the City in Support of “Paternity Establishment Amendment Act of 2022”

On May 5, the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety had its first public hearing on the “Paternity Establishment Amendment Act of 2022.” This amendment would make it easier to obtain court-ordered DNA testing when someone has reason to believe there was a mistake in the signing of an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP).

Under current law, it is difficult to undo an AOP, even when everyone agrees a mistake has been made and someone else is the child’s biological father. This often results in men being responsible for paying child support and having legal rights to children that are not their biological children, and with whom they may have no relationship.

Bread for the City’s Legal Clinic has been fighting these cases in court for years and our attorneys have witnessed the injustices and burdens on families that inaccurate AOPs can have. Our own Allison Miles-Lee provided testimony in support of the amendment during last week’s public hearing. She shares the difficult story of a former Bread for the City client who was denied his request for a court-order paternity test and lost the right to care for a  child he believed to be his own.

Read her full testimony below. You can also watch the full public hearing here.

Testimony of Allison Miles-Lee, Bread for the City
The District of Columbia Council
Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety
Public Hearing on B24-0656, the “Paternity Establishment Amendment Act of 2022”
May 5, 2022

Good morning, my name is Allison Miles-Lee and I am a managing attorney at Bread for the City. For over ten years, we have operated the Child Support Resource Center in court together with the Legal Aid Society of DC. Through that project, we have helped numerous DC residents with their child support and parentage cases. This includes both custodial and non-custodial parents.

We fully support B24-0656, the Paternity Establishment Amendment Act. Over the years, we have seen many cases where people have signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity without having their rights read to them, without understanding the legal consequences, or simply by mistake, believing that a man is a child’s biological father when he is not. Under the current law, it is very difficult to later obtain court-ordered DNA testing that could disestablish the paternity of the man on the Acknowledgment, even with the consent of all interested adults.

This Act would make it easier for people who have signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity or potential biological fathers who have been excluded from that process to get court-ordered DNA tests that would establish the correct person as a child’s legal father.

I worked on a particularly memorable case involving a man I’ll call Mr. Kent. He was in a sexual relationship with a woman at the time she conceived. She told him that he was the father of the child, and they began making plans to care for the child. The mother did not tell Mr. Kent when she went into labor. Instead, another man that the mother was dating at the time of the child’s birth accompanied her to the hospital (we’ll call him Mr. Hill). The mother and Mr. Hill signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity for the newborn, making Mr. Hill her legal father.

Though Mr. Kent and the mother were no longer in a relationship, Mr. Kent was active in the newborn’s life, bringing her diapers and watching her while her mother was out. Tragically, Mr. Hill murdered the mother while the child was still an infant. Mr. Hill was quickly arrested and jailed. The child was taken into custody by the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), and it was only at that point that Mr. Kent learned that another man had acknowledged the paternity of the child that he believed to be his biological child.

Mr. Kent attempted to communicate with CFSA and take the child into his care, but he was not able to since he was not the legal father. While Mr. Kent fought in court for an order for a DNA test that might disestablish Mr. Hill as the child’s father and allow him to become the legal father, the child moved through the foster care process and a couple began making attempts to adopt the child. Mr. Hill was in complete agreement that he was likely not the biological father and even wrote a letter to the court expressing his full support for DNA testing to determine who the legal father really should be. But, applying the current law, the judge ultimately ruled that Mr. Kent had no right to court-ordered DNA testing since Mr. Hill already appeared on the Acknowledgment of Paternity.

That is just one example of the cases we have seen over the years. In other cases, we have tried to help men who signed Acknowledgments of Paternity and later learned they were not the children’s biological fathers. Sometimes people learn this through private DNA testing, or by learning they had a medical condition that prevented them from fathering children.  These men may be ordered to pay child support for children they know are not biologically theirs, and with whom they may have no relationship, until the children turn 21.

We are encouraged that the Child Support Services Division has adopted a policy of offering free administrative DNA testing to all potential parents before they sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity. However, people will continue to sign these Acknowledgments in hospitals, where the message about easy, free DNA testing may not be consistently given.

With this legislation, the Council will be making a small change to the paternity laws to allow people who have signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity or who have been adjudicated the father to later request court-ordered DNA testing if they have reason to believe a mistake was made. This will lead to more instances of establishing legal parentage based on facts, not just based on signatures on paper.

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