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Father Figures

In Memphis, a high number of paternity tests reveal that the father is not who the mother says it is. One man is fighting back.

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Long before Michael Jackson's hit "Billie Jean" conquered the airwaves in the 1980s and The Maury Povich Show hit television, men have been accused of fathering children that were not theirs.

Nationwide, about 17 percent of all paternity tests reveal that a child's alleged father is not, in fact, the biological father. In Tennessee, 25 percent of paternity testing reveals the man not to be the biological father, according to the Department of Human Services.

In Memphis, the percentage of men excluded by DNA paternity tests is significantly higher than the national average.

Stephen Conn, director of Medical Testing Resources, says from 55 to 75 percent of the paternity cases he handles each month in Memphis are found to be "exclusions." His company does about 90 percent of the private paternity tests in the city.

Marcus Matthews, 31, is one of those statistics. While attending Westside High School, Matthews, then 17, had sexual intercourse with a female aquaintance. A few weeks later, Matthews received a call from the girl, informing him that she was pregnant and that he would soon be a father.

"How could she be pregnant?" Matthews wondered. "There was definitely doubt, because I knew the situation was a safe encounter."

As the pregnancy went on, Matthews' doubts lessened and his interest in the girl grew.

"I grew attached to her and to the baby in her stomach," Matthews says. "I was talking to her more and listening to her story. There was sincerity in her voice. She really sounded like she believed I was the father of her child. I think all men have a natural inclination to feel passionate about fatherhood, and I began to do that. I was emotionally caught up in the situation."

Months later, a beautiful baby girl was born. Just to be sure she was his, Matthews requested that the Shelby County Juvenile Court System perform a paternity test before he signed her birth certificate.

But before the results were returned, events unfolded.

"There was the birth of the child, the death of her mother, and the results of the test, all within a six-week period," Matthews says. "[The mother] died March 23rd, the day after my birthday. We got the results in early April. It was terrible."

Matthews was informed that he wasn't the biological father of the girl.

This brought about "a lot of confusion, a lot of hurt, a lot of pain," Matthews says.

"I was really saddened by [the mother's] death, and I was confused, because she was so passionate when she was alive about me being the father of the child. I was even more confused, because there was nowhere [I could] go for answers. I couldn't ask her why. And now the child was in a situation where she didn't have a mother or a father."

In 2010, Matthews wrote and published a book called I Am Not the Father: Narratives of Men Falsely Accused of Paternity. The book shared his story along with four other men's accounts of being falsely accused of paternity.

Matthews, now a doctoral candidate at the University of Memphis, says false accusations of paternity are a subtle epidemic in our society.

"If you haven't gone through it, if you haven't experienced it firsthand, you don't really understand the complexity of it," Matthews says. "Addressing it now and putting it on the forefront and helping people appreciate how much it happens is important."

Since his book's release, people have shared their own stories of being falsely accused of paternity. Many said they would like to have their stories told if Matthews did another book.

Instead of writing that book, Matthews decided to create a documentary film.

"It's one thing to read something, it's another thing to see pictures and video, especially to see the expressions on these guys' faces when they're rehashing their stories, and to be able to hear them speak," Matthews says.

Paternity fraud occurs when a mother knowingly makes a false claim that a man is the father of her child and accepts resources and support from him. It's an issue that could have long-term repercussions for the child emotionally and medically.

For example, a child could need blood plasma or bone marrow to survive a medical crisis, things that only a biological father can provide.

"In those events," Matthews says, "you've got a father who steps up and says, 'I'm going to save my child's life' and the doctor tells you, 'No, you're not related to this child.' If the biological father hasn't been contacted, we don't know where this man is by now — if he's still in the same state, if he's still alive, or how to get in touch with him. That could cost the child's life."

Paternity fraud can also have a negative effect on taxpayers, who ultimately pay for the paternity tests and any subsequent benefits that children and their parent(s) receive from the government.

Conn, who handles paternity dispute cases on his show Paternity Test Tuesdays on K97 FM, said he's seen many cases of paternity fraud.

He recalls one that involved a 16-year-old girl. The alleged father was a 17-year-old who signed the child's birth certificate before a paternity test was performed.

"I asked her," Conn says, "'Why did you have this man sign the birth certificate if you knew there was a question of paternity?' She told me, 'I talked to my mother, and she said if I didn't know who the father was, just pick whoever seemed like they would be the best provider and put it on him.' That's coming from a 16-year-old girl."

In Tennessee, if a man signs a birth certificate, he's considered the father, even if it's shown later that he is not.

"If you voluntarily sign the birth certificate, you are, for all intents and purposes, the father of the child until that is changed [in the court system]," says Carlos Bibbs, a Memphis family law attorney. "You do have the obligation to support the child, if you sign the birth certificate."

At the age of 20, Donna Younger, now 27, had unprotected sex with two men a day apart. She became pregnant and assumed the baby's father was the first man with whom she had intercourse.

"I seriously thought that [the first man] was my little boy's daddy," Younger says. "He signed my son's birth certificate. I just knew in my head that he was the father."

Her feelings changed as her son grew older. Younger noticed that her son closely resembled the second man she'd slept with. A paternity test revealed the second man was indeed the biological father.

In spite of the test results, a judge ordered the man who signed the birth certificate to continue to pay child support. The biological father was never obligated to offer child support.

"The judge said [to the legal father], 'Nobody held a gun to your head and made you sign the birth certificate,'" Younger says. "I felt bad about it, but that's the law in Tennessee."

In some instances, however, after a paternity test, a judge will end a man's parental duties to a child although he's signed the birth certificate.

In these cases, the biological father could face child-support payments that he's missed since the baby was born in addition to any amount the court decides is reasonable for him to pay each month.

Matthews' documentary will showcase the issues that revolve around false paternity. Scheduled for release in April, the film will feature one man from Matthews' book and new cases, including that of Dominique Boyd.

Boyd, now 23, says his false paternity experience occurred while he attended Covington High School. At 17, Boyd met a young woman and began to build a friendship with her, which eventually led to sex.

"She called and said she was pregnant. I said, 'Congratulations. Who's the daddy?'" he says. "I was thinking it couldn't possibly be me because I wore protection. She got mad and hung up on me."

Despite having strong doubts that the child was his, Boyd said he was there for the girl throughout her pregnancy.

"My father wasn't there for me when I was younger, and I always said that if I had a child, I would be there for it," Boyd says.

"I was there. I took her to every doctor appointment. We started to get stuff for the baby. I was helping out. When she thought that she was about to go into labor, I would leave work and go to her."

After the baby was born, Boyd requested a paternity test from Juvenile Court. An appointment was scheduled for a test, but the mother didn't show up. She missed the following scheduled test as well.

More than two years later, the mother finally agreed to a test. The results were provided on the day after the baby's third birthday. By this time, Boyd had built a close bond with the little girl.

"They read the results: 'Dominique Boyd, you're not the father — 99.99 percent certain.' I was shocked. I was hurt," he says.

"By that time, I had grown attached. I had the little girl's name tattooed on me. Although it was in my mind that the baby might not be [mine], when you get it in black and white, it hits you a whole other way."

The news that he wasn't her father didn't push Boyd away from the baby girl. He continues to be a part of her life and still considers her his daughter.

Another man in Matthews' documentary, Marcus Warren, 36, had a different experience.

As Boyd did, Warren used protection during intercourse but thought there was still a possibility that the child could be his. He too insisted on a paternity test to establish if it was.

Unfortunately, the baby, a boy, was born prematurely and died before the results arrived. When the results did come back, Warren was informed that the child wasn't his.

"I was in limbo. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone," Warren says. "To this day, I still don't have any kids. [From that experience], I learned to stay away from certain kinds of women and make sure that I always [wear protection]."

In 2008, state representative G.A. Hardaway proposed legislation that would require mandatory DNA testing before a father signs the birth certificate for a child. The bill would apply to single people and to married couples. Although the bill has yet to be passed, Conn says he thinks it would be a benefit to the state by stopping unnecessary spending and would enable fathers to establish a relationship with their child with no uncertainty.

"If you're a young guy and your girlfriend has a baby," Conn says, "you look at that little baby and maybe you want to hold it and develop a bond right away. But there's this doubt because you know that she had other boyfriends, or you know that she had relations on the side. Mandatory testing would put all of that aside."

Matthews is in talks with a film company in California about creating a feature film.

"When people see that this happens to one out of six American men who are tested for paternity and when they really think about what that means, they can appreciate how important it is. We need to realize that this is something that we need to talk about, analyze, and nip in the bud," Matthews says

Matthews is also planning to start a company to represent men who seek legal action against women who have falsely accused them of paternity.

"When women see that they can be sued for this, I definitely think that could encourage them to think twice or not accuse men when they're not certain, or they know for a fact that he's not the father of their child," Matthews says.

Matthews wants to open a dialog with women who have falsely accused men of paternity.

"That's the one piece of this whole issue that really needs more light shed on it," he says. "Some of these women need to start talking and thinking about it, because it's a detrimental situation — to the children involved, to the men who are being falsely accused, and to society."

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