What does Father’s Day have to do with dispute resolution? All too often, the issue of paternity has become a question to be resolved by the courts. The courts (quite correctly, I believe) seem to favor finality in this decision-making process. For example, in a case where a man filed a formal declaration of paternity shortly following the birth of a child and then, years later in a child support proceeding with the child’s mother, requested a blood test which showed the child was not his, a court held that the initial declaration of paternity was binding. Daniel T.W. v. Joni K.W., 762 N.W.2d 444, 2009 WI App 13 (Wis. App., 2008). In other words, once a father, always a father (unless superceded by an adoption or termination of parental rights). Could this situation have been resolved by alternate dispute resolution proceedings (out of court)? I doubt it. I don’t think the issue of paternity should be negotiable. It might be preferable, in most situations, for the biological father to be the legal father. But once the legal relationship is established, no matter how it is established, the state has an interest in enforcing that relationship so that the child does not become a ward of the state. That interest can be enforced only in court. It can’t and shouldn’t be negotiated or mediated. Remember, King Solomon did not really cut the baby in half. He only threatened to do so. Parenthood is and always has been an all or nothing proposition.
The decision to become a legal father should be taken as seriously as the decision to become a biological father. Far too many fathers take neither decision seriously and try to escape their responsibilities. On this Father’s Day, I wish only that more men could see the benefits and enjoy the relationship, regardless of the costs.