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The Durango Herald - News - Durango, CO

DNA tests could end child-support checks

Herald Denver Bureau Chief, Denver U.S.A., By Charles Ashby, March 3, 2004

DENVER - Fathers who pay child support but later discover that children they thought were theirs actually aren't can have a court end payments under a bill that received House approval Tuesday.

The measure, which passed the House on a 33-32 vote, is designed to free from child-support obligations men who believed false assertions from their former wives that they were the fathers. The men would be freed of child support only if they have DNA to prove they are not the fathers.

Rep. William Sinclair, R-Colorado Springs, who introduced House Bill 1083, said it's only fair to give falsely named fathers a legal option to terminate child-support payments that they shouldn't have been forced to pay in the first place.

"This bill would put the law in concert with current science and technology," Sinclair said. "Seven other states have this law, so it's time for Colorado to set the tone here."

The measure, which heads to the Senate, applies only to cases where a court determines that ending support payments does not unduly harm the child.

While disputes over parentage crop up only rarely in Southwest Colorado, family-law attorney James Shaner, who practices in Cortez and Durango, said he suspects it might become a bigger issue if the bill becomes law.

He said paternity cases that stem from county social services agencies routinely require DNA tests to ensure proper identification of the father.

With legal recourse, men may choose to check parentage years after the birth of a child if they suspect they are not the actual fathers, Shaner said.

"DNA testing is usually done prior to a (child-support) order being approved," Shaner said. "Under the law right now, there's what's called presumptive fathers, where if the father signed his name on the birth certificate or an acknowledgment of paternity when the child is born, that creates a legal presumption that he is the father."

That presumption can be challenged later, and Sinclair's bill would help with a paternity challenge, Shaner said.

The bill would allow courts to reject paternity lawsuits based on DNA evidence if the man had acknowledged paternity knowing he was not the biological father or if the child was adopted.