Most people think you have to either adopt or conceive a baby to become legally responsible for a child. Under Michigan law, that is simply not how it works.
“I became dad by default,” said Reginald Whitlow II.
He and three other men came to Detroit-based WXYZ for a panel discussion on how one becomes "dad by default."
There are a couple ways it happens. Pastor Edward Mack says his previous wife had three children. He loved them as his own. Then he realized two of them weren’t biologically his.
“I don’t really want to talk about it. It brings tears to my eyes,” said Mack.
Pastor Mack says the betrayal led to divorce. He was shocked when the judge told him because he was married, he became "dad by default" to his wife’s children. He had to pay support for another man’s children.
“Let her pay for them. Let her get the man she laid down with to pay for them. He goes free,” said Mack.
“I never even slept with her,” said Anthony Sims of the mother of the child he is paying for. "I had a lawsuit when I was young. She said that is the money I am going to get and she got it.”
Reginald Whitlow, Anthony Sims, and Carnell Alexander have similar stories. They say women named them out of nowhere.
In 2014 WXYZ told Carnell Alexander’s story and found the mother. She said she was told in order to get welfare benefits she needed to name a father. She knew he wasn’t the dad, but wrote down his name.
Then these men missed paternity hearings because they were sick or did not receive notice. Carnell had proof. He was in prison when a process server claimed he was served at a house in Highland Park.
When they didn’t show up at court a judge ruled them dads by default. They then missed their chance to challenge it with DNA evidence by the court deadline because they couldn’t find the women and children.
“The wouldn’t give me her address because it was confidential,” said Whitlow.
These men all eventually got DNA tests backing their stories. It was too late.
“Often times it doesn’t make a difference,” said Rep. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) of DNA test results.
Runestad says those DNA tests should make a difference. He heard the story of Carnell Alexander on WXYZ, and decided to take action. He says this year he hopes to pass legislation that would protect men from being forced to pay for another man’s children. Plus women and process servers who lie should face legal consequences.
“This is wrong. Deceiving and lying and obligating people who are not supposed to be obligated to pay bills is wrong,” said Runestad.
The men who spoke to Seven Action News don’t just want the law changed to protect others. They want compensation.
“I am getting garnished. I am getting thrown in jail. I am getting felony charges,” said Sims.
“You have taken our lives,” said Alexander.
“Change that law,” said Mack.
Runestad has written five bills that he says will protect both men and children from such fraud. He says he plans to introduce them within the next month.