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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Tricked 'fathers' may get bill's help - Paternity Fraud

TRIBUNE-REVIEW, Pittsburg, PA, USA, By Jason Cato, Friday, June 20, 2008

Michael Lautar was devastated when he learned his first wife was cheating on him, and then crushed to discover the then 5-year-old girl who called him "Daddy" wasn't really his daughter.

Next came the sucker punch.

Lautar is under court order to pay nearly $800 a month in child support and other expenses, despite the fact his ex-wife has admitted in Allegheny County court papers that Lautar is not the girl's father. The child was born during their marriage. After the couple divorced, the mother married the girl's biological father. The mother, the father and the daughter live together in Moon, according to papers filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

"I'm stuck in this rip-off, this fraud," said Lautar, 40, of North Strabane. "It's paternity fraud, is what it is. ... And the state is enforcing this fraud."

Attorney David Hanna of Aliquippa, who represents Lautar's ex-wife, declined to comment, and she could not be reached.

State Sen. John Wozniak, a Democrat from Johnstown, plans to introduce a bill next week intended to help men who claim to have been tricked into believing they are fathers. Wozniak's bill would require DNA tests in any case where paternity is an issue for a child born in wedlock and if the child is not yet 5 years old.

"If you haven't figured it out by then, you're probably not going to figure it out," Wozniak said.

Modern technology should be used as a tool to help courts determine who is the biological father -- and who isn't, Wozniak said.

"Everybody is pro-family, but there are circumstances out there that are not fair," he said.

Either party or the court could order the tests under Wozniak's bill, and the court would determine whether one of the parties or the county would be responsible for paying the cost.

Allegheny County judges last year ordered nearly 2,800 paternity tests, according to Family Court records. Only a small percentage of those cases involved children born to married couples. Each test costs $210, which is charged to the man if he is found to be the father and to the county if he is not.

About a dozen states have amended laws concerning paternity.

Pennsylvania relies on a centuries-old English common law doctrine where a husband is presumed to be the father when a child is born into a marriage. In court filings, Lautar's ex-wife used that argument to convince Judge David Wecht to continue child support payments. State courts often rely on that presumption to trump DNA testing.

State law prohibits men from rescinding parental rights if they have acted as a child's father. Courts routinely have ruled it is not in "the best interest of the child" to suspend child support payments unless the man was fraudulently duped into believing he was the father.

"Nowhere in the law is there the best interest of the child," Lautar said. "The truth is the best interest."

Lautar said he has scientific proof that he did not father the girl, now 10, but said judges repeatedly refused to accept it as evidence.

His lawsuit to stop paying child support is on appeal to Superior Court, which last year ruled in favor of a father in a similar situation.

Dr. Mark Hudson of Finleyville is entitled to a paternity test to help him prove he is not the biological father of a 13-year-old boy his former wife conceived in an extramarital affair, the court ordered. Hudson is under court order to pay $2,800 a month in child support for two children, only one of whom he claims he fathered.

"Overall, this issue isn't raised often, but it is raised," said Dan Richard, director of the state Bureau of Child Support. "Nationally, this is a fairly hot topic."

Lautar said he has no plan to abandon the girl who spent Father's Day with him. He and his new wife fought for and won visitation rights.

But he resents being forced to financially support another man's daughter.

"We're having trouble starting our own family because they're stealing our money," Lautar said. "This woman and man are committing fraud, and the court is supporting it."