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Ruling a big red flag for men

Calgary Sun, By MINDELLE JACOBS, Sat, February 5, 2005

If men knew more about family law, they'd run screaming from single mothers prowling for relationships and father figures for their children.

Any lawyer will tell you that the nature of your relationship with a child - not biology - determines whether you're on the hook for child support.

Sperm has nothing to do with it, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled a few years ago.

And that's unfortunate for Justin Sumner, who married a woman thinking he'd fathered her daughter and is now stuck paying child support even though a DNA test proved he's not the dad.

Little Rhylee was born in August 2001, Justin and Dawn were married a year later and the couple separated about a year after that. They are now divorced.

As Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sterling Sanderman put it in his recent ruling: "Marriages are entered into casually and dissolved whimsically."

But your obligations to stepchildren continue, deadbeat biological dads notwithstanding.

One way men can possibly protect themselves from gold-digging single moms is to draw up a co-habitation agreement stating they have no intention of taking on a parental role, says Edmonton family lawyer Michelle Mackay.

"It may stand up in court. It may not," she says, adding the Supreme Court's 1999 decision placed the interests of the child first.

The high court was quite clear on that point. "Once a person is found to stand in the place of a parent, that relationship cannot be unilaterally withdrawn by the adult," the court stated.

It noted that sometimes men, and occasionally women, use kids as pawns to further relationships and then once the couple splits up, the children are abandoned.

"This is not to be encouraged," the court said, quoting a previous ruling. "If relationships are Read More .. difficult for a person to extricate him- or herself from then, perhaps, more children will be spared the trauma of rejection, bruised self-image and loss of financial support."

A stepdad being sued for child support can also try to get a judge to go after the biological father, says Mackay.

In fact, in the Sumner case, Sanderman ripped into Dawn, 33, for pursuing Justin for child support instead of the man who actually fathered her children because Justin had more money.

Dawn considered her previous lover, who also fathered her older child, as no more "a surrogate donor," noted Sanderman.

"This is a matter that is merely about money," he added.

The case is no surprise to the men who have already been ordered to support other men's kids.

But it should be a red flag to other men contemplating moving in with single moms. Relationships rarely last long these days. Obligations, however, are not so easily shrugged off.

Justin has one consolation. Sanderman cut his child support payments in half, ordering the biological dad to pay the other half.

Yet, if Dawn was greedy, Justin was wilfully blind. Prior to the marriage, they split up a couple of times.

It was during one of these breakups that Dawn slept with her old lover and became pregnant. You'd think he would have been suspicious of the paternity of the child. Instead, he believed what he wanted to believe. Now he's paying the consequences.

The so-called in loco parentis (standing in place of a parent) doctrine is a "creature of 19th-century patriarchy," the Supreme Court observed. "It evolved during a time when it was a morally offensive notion for a man to be held responsible for another man's child."

The pendulum has now swung in the other direction. Men, hand over your wallets.