Change of Fortune


(Fact - Based on Memory)


The hearing does not last more than twenty minutes.  She speaks.  He speaks.  You ask some questions.  She speaks.  He speaks.  Then the ice water rolls down your back.  You remain motionless except that your eyes contract and you hear yourself say, “Let me be sure I understand this.” 


Welcome to the judge’s bench, where the troubles people visit upon themselves and others seem endless.  You begin to go back over the testimony to be sure it is clear.


“You gave birth to a son?” you ask.  “Yes,” the mother answers emotionlessly.  “And at that time you named this man as your son’s father?”  Another monotone, “Yes.”  “You stated that this man has been a good father and has been active in your son’s life?”   Still with no flicker of emotion she explains, “Yes, but he lost his job and he can’t pay enough child support.  The real father is making good money now,” and therefore, she imagines, is in a position to send her a much larger child support check.  She goes on with a stone-faced stare, “I picked the man I thought would make the best father and be the best provider.  Things have changed.” 


If this were all to the story, it would be complicated enough, but let’s add another layer of difficulty. 


The man speaks of dealing with the shock of being told he is not the child’s father.   With visible yearning, he talks about the amount of time they spend together, how much he loves the child, and how strong their relationship is.   He wants to stay involved in the child’s life, wants parenting rights, and wants to pay child support.  


Now what do you do? 


This is a real case that I heard many years ago - a quick hearing among many quick hearings on a long motion day.  Such days leave little time for reflection.  With the law behind me, I issued an order at the end of the hearing establishing a schedule for the man to have contact with the boy.  After setting the parenting schedule, I told the mother, “I have no control over how you handle explaining this situation to your son but until a court says otherwise, this man is the child’s father and his parental rights will be enforced.”


And that is how the issue before me that day was resolved.  The man had been grievously deceived; his financial prospects had changed, but he had no reversal of fortune when it came to his character. 


















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