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Custody of Nonbiological Children—Burden and Proof Issues

In the matter of R.L. v. M.A., Case No.: 2740 EDA 2018, the Pennsylvania Superior Court delved into the leading edge of family law when it ruled upon whether an individual in a same-sex relationship can be awarded custody of a child with whom she has no biological relationship.

In R.L., the appellant, M.A., entered into a romantic relationship with R.L. (appellee) in 2012. During the relationship, the parties decided to impregnate the appellant via artificial insemination using sperm from the appellee’s brother.

The couple proceeded to prepare for the birth of the child by setting up the baby’s room and purchasing typical baby supplies. R.L. was present for the baby’s birth, chose the baby’s first name, and gave the baby her own surname. Not long after the child was born, the couple broke up.

Instead of litigating, the parties entered into an informal agreement for the custody of the child. The child lived primarily with the appellant and spent every other weekend with the appellee. This arrangement lasted until 2014 when the parties informally elected to equally share custody of the child. This 50/50 arrangement lasted nearly four years until R.L. called the daycare center where the appellant worked and which the child attended. R.L. complained that the appellant was having too much contact with the child while in daycare and even inappropriately (in her opinion) removed the child from the daycare premises.

In response to the above-mentioned telephone call, the appellant unilaterally discontinued their customary 50/50 arrangement, which led to R.L. filing a complaint for custody of the child. R.L. was granted in loco parentis over the child fairly quickly, which conferred R.L. standing to have custody of the child. The matter went to trial and the trial court entered an order granting each party equal custody, alternating on a weekly basis; the appellant appealed this order to Superior Court.

On appeal, the appellant argued that the appellee did not meet the burden of clear and convincing evidence that a nonparent should have custody equal to a parent, and that the court erred in weighing the evidence presented.

In support of her argument that appellee did not meet her burden of proof, the appellant argued that 23 Pa.C.S. Section 5327 requires a trial court to apply a presumption in favor of parents over nonparents, and, as a “nonparent,” the appellant did not meet her burden to overcome the presumption in favor of the appellee. The appellant also argued that the trial court erred in considering the parties’ informal shared custody arrangement when rending its decision.

In making its ruling, the Superior Court acknowledged that “even before the proceedings start, the evidentiary scale is tipped, and tipped hard, to the biological parents’ side.” In saying that, the Superior Court also recognized that this principle does “not preclude an award of custody to the nonparent.”

Additionally, the court made it clear that the “best interests” standard is still the touchstone when entering a child custody order. Furthermore, once someone is granted in loco parentis, she need not demonstrate that the other party is unfit, but rather merely demonstrate that it is in the best interests of the child (as proven by clear and convincing evidence) to be with the nonparent party.

The Superior Court ruled that the appellant did meet her burden of clear and convincing evidence, specifically by demonstrating that the parties lived out an agreed shared custody arrangement for a number of years, indeed most of the child’s life, and only discontinued that arrangement due to the appellee being upset over the appellant’s telephone call to the daycare center, as opposed to anything directly related to custody.

The Superior Court also indicated that the appellant’s interpretation of the law is incorrect. Namely, while the scales do tip heavily toward a parent over a nonparent, there is a distinction as to whether that nonparent is seeking shared, as opposed to primary, custody. As she was only seeking shared custody, the appellant only had the burden of clear and convincing evidence to bring the scales even with the appellee. Only if the appellant were seeking primary custody would she have to tip the scales hard toward herself under the burden of clear and convincing evidence.

Ultimately, a nonparent seeking shared custody of a child has to have standing and demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that such a custody arrangement is in the best interest of a child.

This article was originally published in The Legal Intelligencer on June 27, 2019 and can be found here.

Kanye and Collins: Shredded by Intersectionality

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Splice Today by my old philosophy professor Dr. Crispin Sartwell from back in my Penn State days which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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A lot of people who assert that Kanye West has gone mad are also angry at him, which lands him in the worst of all possible worlds: held not to be responsible for his actions by the very same people who are blaming him. I’ve been there, brother. But Kanye is being ripped apart by forces larger than insomnia. He’s like the Jesus of intersectionality, crucified for our sins on the cross of fallacious reasoning. The problem isn’t that Kanye makes no sense—though he doesn’t—it’s that everyone talking about Kanye make no sense either. The Sufferings of Kanye have been sent to us as a message from God: if you don’t generate a coherent way of thinking about race, gender, and politics, I’m going to come over and smack you.

Sen. Susan Collins has been tacked to the same wretched cross, which defines a four-box grid: male, female, minority, white. That’s the menu from which we each get to pick who we are, because it’s as many identities as political consultants can keep in their heads simultaneously.

People find a lot of ways to say “race traitor” and “gender traitor” without saying it, and now Kanye knows what it feels like to be a wigger in the whitebread suburbs, and Collins what it’s like to be a drag queen. But though Kanye betrayed his politically-unanimous race—because Donald Trump is a racist—he kept faith with his politically-unanimous gender, because Trump’s also a sexist. The people most outraged by Kanye are also those (Michael Eric Dyson, for example) who believe that a progressive future is demographically inevitable, because of a growing coalition of women and minorities. But that inspiring coalition includes one half of Kanye West (and for that matter one half of Dyson and Collins) and excludes the other.

The American political spectrum is largely collapsing into demographics: it’s not defined by what you believe, but skin-tone and gonads, and both sides are engaged in internal gender cleansing. This is one of the things you identitarians had better talk about when you talk about “intersectionality”: people like Kanye and Collins—black men and white women—have intersectional identities alright, identities that land different bits of themselves on different sides of the political spectrum. No wonder they seem a bit bewildered.

On this way of thinking, the inmost identity of each of us is a simple matrix of group memberships. But only half of Kanye’s identity is invited to the progressive party. The minority member should be piping up while the man quiets down and listens to the people he’s oppressed. That’s how you get the Kanye we saw in the Oval, or the Collins we saw address the Senate: several people at once or no one at all. Identity politics as currently conceived confronts us all with a fateful question: is Kanye blacker than he is male, or more male than he is black? Perhaps some sort of DNA test could help with this?

What’s remarkable is that Kanye is conscious of this, and he explains his own support for Trump directly as a matter of gender.

West: “You know, they tried to scare me to not wear this hat—my own friends. But this hat, it gives me—it gives me power, in a way. You know, my dad and my mom separated, so I didn’t have a lot of male energy in my home. And also, I’m married to a family that—(laughs)—you know, not a lot of male energy going on. It’s beautiful, though. But there’s times where, you know, there’s something about—you know, I love Hillary. I love everyone, right? But the campaign ‘I’m with her’ just didn’t make me feel, as a guy, that didn’t get to see my dad all the time—like a guy that could play catch with his son. It was something about when I put this hat on, it made me feel like Superman. You made a Superman. That was my—that’s my favorite superhero. And you made a Superman cape.”

Then on to the “hero’s journey” and “dragon energy”: straight out of the “men’s movement” circa 1986.

The gender gap right now is running at an all-time high of around 30 percent. It’s going to be something when we have pure gender parties, or straight-up politics of the playground: boys against girls. But then, if the same party that represents all the men also represents all the white people, and the same party that represents all the women represents all the members of racial minority groups, what are Kanye or Collins to do?

Our politics appears to be breaking down into two race/gender coalitions, which is a remarkable development, among other things, for how disgusting it is. But the good part is that the politics it describes is impossible, because it not only separates us from one another, but separates many of us from ourselves. It’s evil, but it’s also silly, so I suppose we just have to watch it play out.

I’d expect no wave in the midterm elections; if you ran a computer model on this incoherent way of understanding the electorate, it would show a stalemate in perpetuity. The greater the proportion of minorities, of course, the greater the proportion of minority men, who may well respond to dragon energy and hero’s journeys. More women in the Senate may well mean more white women in the Senate.

So while we may bemoan the incoherence of identity politics as it emerges from both sides now, we can celebrate that incoherence too, for even if identity politics wins, it loses.

This article can be found here.

 

What an Audacious Hoax Reveals About Academia

Over the past 12 months, three scholars—James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian—wrote 20 fake papers using fashionable jargon to argue for ridiculous conclusions, and tried to get them placed in high-profile journals in fields including gender studies, queer studies, and fat studies. Their success rate was remarkable: By the time they took their experiment public late on Tuesday, seven of their articles had been accepted for publication by ostensibly serious peer-reviewed journals. Seven more were still going through various stages of the review process. Only six had been rejected.

In the late 1990s, Alan Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University, began a soon-to-be-infamous article by setting out some of his core beliefs:

that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole; that these properties are encoded in “eternal” physical laws; and that human beings can obtain reliable, albeit imperfect and tentative, knowledge of these laws by hewing to the “objective” procedures and epistemological strictures prescribed by the (so-called) scientific method.

Sokal went on to “disprove” his credo in fashionable jargon. “Feminist and poststructuralist critiques have demystified the substantive content of mainstream Western scientific practice, revealing the ideology of domination concealed behind the façade of ‘objectivity,’” he claimed. “It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical ‘reality,’ no less than social ‘reality,’ is at bottom a social and linguistic construct.”

Next, Sokal sent off this jabber to Social Text, a peer-reviewed academic journal that was, at the time, a leading intellectual forum for famous scholars including Edward Said, Oskar Negt, Nancy Fraser, Étienne Balibar, and Jacques Rancière. It was published.In the eyes of his supporters, what came to be known as the Sokal Hoax seemed to prove the most damning charges that critics of postmodernism had long leveled against it. Postmodern discourse is so meaningless, they claimed, that not even “experts” can distinguish between people who make sincere claims and those who compose deliberate gibberish.

In the months after Sokal went public, Social Text was much ridiculed. But its influence—and that of the larger “deconstructivist” mode of inquiry it propagated—continued to grow. Indeed, many academic departments that devote themselves to the study of particular ethnic, religious, and sexual groups are deeply inflected by some of Social Text’s core beliefs, including the radical subjectivity of knowledge.

That’s why Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian set out to rerun the original hoax, only on a much larger scale. Call it Sokal Squared.

Generally speaking, the journals that fell for Sokal Squared publish respected scholars from respected programs. For example, Gender, Place and Culture, which accepted one of the hoax papers, has in the past months published work from professors at UCLA, Temple, Penn State, Trinity College Dublin, the University of Manchester, and Berlin’s Humboldt University, among many others.

The sheer craziness of the papers the authors concocted makes this fact all the more shocking. One of their papers reads like a straightforward riff on the Sokal Hoax. Dismissing “western astronomy” as sexist and imperialist, it makes a case for physics departments to study feminist astrology—or practice interpretative dance—instead:

Other means superior to the natural sciences exist to extract alternative knowledges about stars and enriching astronomy, including ethnography and other social science methodologies, careful examination of the intersection of extant astrologies from around the globe, incorporation of mythological narratives and modern feminist analysis of them, feminist interpretative dance (especially with regard to the movements of the stars and their astrological significance), and direct application of feminist and postcolonial discourses concerning alternative knowledges and cultural narratives.

The paper that was published in Gender, Place and Culture seems downright silly. “Human Reaction to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon” claims to be based on in situ observation of canine rape culture in a Portland dog park. “Do dogs suffer oppression based upon (perceived) gender?” the paper asks.

By drawing upon empirical studies of psychological harms of objectification, especially through depersonalization, and exploring severel veins of theoretical literature on nonphysical forms of sexual violence, this articles seeks to situate non-concensual male autoerotic fantasizing about women as a form of metasexual violence that depersonalizes her, injures her being on an affective level, contributes to consequent harms of objectification and rape culture, and can appropriate her identity for the purpose of male sexual gratification.

Sokal Squared doesn’t just expose the low standards of the journals that publish this kind of dreck, though. It also demonstrates the extent to which many of them are willing to license discrimination if it serves ostensibly progressive goals. This tendency becomes most evident in an article that advocates extreme measures to redress the “privilege” of white students. Exhorting college professors to enact forms of “experiential reparations,” the paper suggests telling privileged students to stay silent, or even binding them to the floor in chains. If students protest, educators are told to

take considerable care not to validate privilege, sympathize with, or reinforce it and in so doing, recenter the needs of privileged groups at the expense of marginalized ones. The reactionary verbal protestations of those who oppose the progressive stack are verbal behaviors and defensive mechanisms that mask the fragility inherent to those inculcated in privilege.

Like just about everything else in this depressing national moment, Sokal Squared is already being used as ammunition in the great American culture war. Many conservatives who are deeply hostile to the science of climate change, and who dismiss out of hand the studies that attest to deep injustices in our society, are using Sokol Squared to smear all academics as biased culture warriors. The Federalist, a right-wing news and commentary site, went so far as to spread the apparent ideological bias of a few journals in one particular corner of academia to most professors, the mainstream media, and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

These attacks are empirically incorrect and intellectually dishonest. There are many fields of academia that have absolutely no patience for nonsense. While the hoaxers did manage to place articles in some of the most influential academic journals in the cluster of fields that focus on dealing with issues of race, gender, and identity, they have not penetrated the leading journals of more traditional disciplines. As a number of academics pointed out on Twitter, for example, all of the papers submitted to sociology journals were rejected. For now, it remains unlikely that the American Sociological Review or the American Political Science Review would have fallen for anything resembling “Our Struggle Is My Struggle,” a paper modeled on the infamous book with a similar title.

That too is intellectually dishonest. For one, Lindsay, Pluckrose and Boghossian describe themselves as left-leaning liberals. For another, it is nonsensical to insist that nonsense scholarship doesn’t matter because you don’t like the motives of the people who exposed it, or because some other forms of scholarship may also contain nonsense. If certain fields of study cannot reliably differentiate between real scholarship and noxious bloviating, they become deeply suspect. And if they are so invested in overcoming injustice that they are willing to embrace rank cruelty as long as it is presented in the right kind of progressive jargon, they are worsening the problems they purport to address.It would, then, be all too easy to draw the wrong inferences from Sokal Squared. The lesson is neither that all fields of academia should be mistrusted nor that the study of race, gender, or sexuality is unimportant. As Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian point out, their experiment would be far less worrisome if these fields of study didn’t have such great relevance.

But if we are to be serious about remedying discrimination, racism, and sexism, we can’t ignore the uncomfortable truth these hoaxers have revealed: Some academic emperors—the ones who supposedly have the most to say about these crucial topics—have no clothes.

By Yascha Mounk and published in The Atlantic on October 5, 2018 and can be found here.

 

 

How My Husband’s Porn Fantasy Obsession Led Him To Be Disgusted With My Body

Six years ago, when I first met Tim*, everything seemed to be perfect. We clicked immediately and were married within a year of meeting. It seemed fast, but we loved all the same things, could talk about anything, and worked in similar jobs. I really thought I’d found my soul mate.

But six years later, last November, we split and Tim moved out. I filed for divorce in January, and it was official by June.

Everyone wanted to know why: Why weren’t we trying counseling first? Why didn’t we tell anyone we were having problems? Why couldn’t we work it out for our son? And, of course, why did we get divorced?

I can tell you in one word: porn.

It sounds ridiculous, but it’s the truth. The porn wasn’t just a part of some bigger problem, it was the problem.

I never took issue with porn, before…

I’ve never had a problem with porn or with people looking at it in their free time. When we were dating, Tim told me he started looking at it, like most boys, in his young teens. I didn’t worry too much about it, chalking it up to just a thing guys do. But then our sex life started to suffer. To be honest, it was never amazing. I thought that was from the stress of working, living with roommates, and planning a wedding, and figured once we settled down we’d work it out. Not so much. Sex always seemed like a lot more work for Tim than it should be, and the longer we were married, the less sex we were having.

At first, I wondered if Tim was suffering from depression, had a low libido, or might even be gay (even though he’d never shown any interest in men). But then I saw his open laptop one evening and read all the tabs he had open, and realized that he had an enormous sexual appetite—just not for me.

Instead of coming to bed with me, he was choosing to stay downstairs every evening with his laptop, watching porn. We were down to having sex maybe once every three months. And it definitely wasn’t good sex. So not wanting to be a nun in my own marriage, I finally confronted Tim about what I had found.

He couldn’t get aroused with me because I’m real

I told him it wasn’t the porn itself I was worried about, but that he preferred it to me, a living, breathing woman. Plus, we had talked about wanting to try getting pregnant, and that just wasn’t going to happen having sex every three months. Tim agreed it was an issue and then he said something that really shocked me: he was having a hard time being physically aroused by me.

I was young and kept myself healthy. I waxed, I wore deodorant, I dressed well. It didn’t make any sense! Then he told me that my body disgusted him. He said it didn’t react the way he thought it should, that I made weird noises, and that my bodily fluids grossed him out. He also mentioned that he wished I looked more like the porn stars, with bigger breasts, etc. Then he said he just couldn’t get hard, plain and simple, when he was with me.

It was the most devastating conversation of my life and I still cry when I think about it. Can you imagine having your body picked apart piece by piece like that and being told you’re not good enough? That the natural way your body responds to sex is wrong?

Still, Tim wanted to try to make our relationship work and because the rest of our life together was so good, I was willing to go along with that if he went to counseling. Things seemed to be getting better—we were having more sex—but I started to notice something.

Tim always wanted to reenact things he’d watched while asking me to dress or wax or talk like his favorite performers. And a lot of the things he wanted to try, positions or toys that seemed to work so well in porn, involved rough, violent sex that treated women in a very degrading way. Even then, it still took a lot of effort for him to climax. There was nothing fun about that sex for me, nothing. It was getting to the point that it was actually traumatic for me.

All this seemed to make him more sure that something was wrong with me, and I was starting to believe he might be right. My self-esteem was destroyed; I hated my body. But one good thing did come from it: I got pregnant.

The downward spiral, and the lies

Pregnancy was a massive turn-off for Tim, so we took a nine-month hiatus from sex. And I was okay with that. The rest of our life was good, our son was amazing, so I kind of gave up caring about sex for about two years. I knew he was downstairs with his laptop again, but I didn’t want to deal with that. It wasn’t perfect, but it was okay. Plus, Tim was still attending weekly sessions with the therapist.

Eventually, though, I decided I couldn’t live without sex for the rest of my life. So I made an attempt to initiate sex one night after our son was asleep, only to discover that Tim had been lying about seeing the therapist and he was more dependent on porn than ever. I felt so angry and betrayed. I packed up my things and the baby and went to stay with a relative.

A week later, Tim called, saying he was sorry, and asked to meet at a hotel to try and “work on things.”

“No laptop?” I asked.

“No laptop,” he promised.

So I left my son with a sitter, dressed up, and met Tim at the bar in the lobby. He said he wanted me back and was willing to get treatment for his porn addiction—for real this time. He listed all the good things we had together and I began to remember why I fell in love with him in the first place. After a few drinks, we headed up to the room. But as soon as I started trying to kiss him, he involuntarily shuddered and turned away.

I knew then it wasn’t ever going to work.

As a real woman, I didn’t fit into his porn perfection

Instead of learning to see me as a woman, he was still trying to fit me into his porn fantasies. But I wasn’t going to compromise my body and my wants anymore for his. I was done. I’d spent years being compared to completely unrealistic women, and I just couldn’t take it anymore.

I haven’t told many people the real reason for our split. I’m worried they’ll think I’m being dramatic or overreacting. And there’s a lot of shame. Part of me still thinks I did something wrong, that if I could have just been that fantasy for him, we’d still be together. It’s humiliating.

I’m not ready to talk about it with other women yet, but I do wonder how many other wives like me are out there, suffering and wondering how they’ll ever measure up to the pornographic ideal. I think there are a lot more of us than anyone knows.

J.

*Names and identifying details have been changed

Betrayal isn’t uncommon, it’s the norm

There are definitely a lot more of these stories than anyone knows, and far too many. We receive countless emails and direct messages from significant others who have been betrayed by their partner’s porn habit. Unfortunately, this woman’s story is as common as it is heartbreaking.

Porn reshapes expectations about sex and attraction by presenting an unrealistic picture. In porn, men and women always look their best. They are forever young, surgically enhanced, airbrushed, and Photoshopped to perfection.  So it’s not hard to see why, according to a national poll, six out of seven women believe that porn has changed men’s expectations of how women should look.

As writer Naomi Wolf points out, “Today real naked women are just bad porn.”

While porn is something that both men and women struggle with, it seems that a large number of the messages we get are from girlfriends, wives, and female partners. We summed up the damaging effects of porn in a letter we wrote and released on social media:

Two of the most respected pornography researchers, Jennings Bryant and Dolf Zillman at the University of Alabama, studied the effects of porn and media for more than 30 years. They found that consuming pornography makes many individuals less satisfied with their own partners’ physical appearance, sexual performance, sexual curiosity, and affection.  They also found that, over time, many porn users grow more callous toward females in general, less likely to value monogamy and marriage, and more likely to develop distorted perceptions of sexuality. Other researchers have confirmed those results and added that porn consumers tend to be significantly less intimate with their partners, less committed in their relationships, less satisfied with their romantic and sex lives, and more likely to cheat on their partners.

In reality, there’s nothing sexier than authentic love built on trust, mutuality, and honesty. That’s what we’re fighting for.

Originally published on Fight the New Drug on September 12, 2018 and can be found here.

 

Divorce is hard enough on children — why are our courts making it worse?

Divorce is difficult for children. It disrupts their lives in ways they are often ill-equipped to handle. It can have life-long adverse effects.

The good news is that the long term harms of divorce on children can be largely avoided if adults properly handle post-divorce parenting. And a compelling and growing body of scientific research tells us how to deal with parental separation to minimize the damage done to children.

National Parents Organization has just completed a ground-breaking study—the first of its kind—of the local default parenting time guidelines of all 88 of Ohio’s county courts of common pleas. These guidelines, required by state law, indicate default parenting time schedules and significantly shape the actual parenting patterns of divorced parents.

The results are illuminating, and depressing!

The best research on the well-being of children when parents live apart shows that children typically do best when they enjoy substantially equal time in the care of each of their parents. And this is true for infants and toddlers as well as for older children; and it’s true even when the parents have a high level of (non-violent) conflict. On all measures of child well-being, children raised in shared physical custody score about as well as children raised in an intact family; and they do much better than children raised in sole-custody situations. (Some of this research is listed on the NPO website.)

The Ohio parenting time guidelines of most counties are not only sadly behind the times, they lead to results that are capricious and bizarre.

One would think, then, that court rules, which are supposed to be guided by a “best interest of the child” principle, would be encouraging shared physical custody. Unfortunately, most of them are not; instead, steeped in a 1950s mindset, they are imposing rules that harm children.

Of Ohio’s 88 counties, 64 have parenting time guidelines that allow children to spend only two overnights and 60 hours or fewer in a two-week period with one of their fit parents. Some of these have schedules that prevent the children from being in the care of one of their parents for 12 consecutive days during that two-week period.

None of these counties have parenting guidelines that allow the children to be in the care of their non-residential parent on a school night. What that means is that this parent, now demoted to a second-class status, is never charged with ensuring that the children do their homework, get ready for school, and so forth. This takes one fit parent out of a true parent-child role at a time when it is more important than ever for children to be reassured that both parents are fully engaged in their lives—that both parents are doing the hands-on, day-to-day tasks of raising them.

There were bright spots, too, but only a few. Just three Ohio counties have adopted guidelines that provide children with equal, or almost equal, time with each of their fit parents.

The Ohio parenting time guidelines of most counties are not only sadly behind the times, they lead to results that are capricious and bizarre. For example, children whose parents divorce in Sandyville, Ohio (Tuscarawas County) will presumptively be in the care of each of their parents for seven overnights and 168 hours in a two-week period. Identical children in an identical family, just 4 miles away in Magnolia, Ohio (Carroll County), will presumptively be in the care of one of their parents for just 2 overnights and 48 hours in the same period—and those children will go 12 days straight without seeing that parent.

NPO has published the results of its study of Ohio parenting time guidelines as well as an interactive map showing county-by-county results. We believe that Ohio is, unfortunately, typical of the approach that many courts across the country are taking toward parenting time guidelines: behind the times and ungrounded in research. We encourage those who are concerned about the effects of divorce on children to call for changes that will truly promote the best interest of children.

Sadly, many courts are failing our children. Our children deserve better.

By Donald C. Hubin and originally published on FoxNews.com on September 16, 2018 and can be found here.

 

Superior Court Navigates ‘Twists and Turns’ in Case Involving Paternity Tests

Pennsylvania Superior Court recently heard a rather complex and tangled case regarding how, when and what significance a paternity test may have in determining the paternity of a child. In the matter of H.Z. v. M.B., 2019 Pa.Super. 33, the Superior Court offered insights that may be instructive for other similar matters, especially in cases where attempted clever tactics and intrigue are elements.

In H.Z., the mother, seeking child support, filed for paternity testing in New York shortly before the child was born in March 2005. The results of the testing excluded M.B., the putative father. Consequently the parties entered into a stipulation providing that the mother would discontinue her paternity and support actions against M.B. with prejudice.

Two years later, the mother hired a private investigator to surreptitiously secure a sample of the father’s DNA. Specifically, the investigator followed M.B. to a Starbucks where he picked M.B.’s discarded coffee cup out of a trash can, and submitted it for genetic testing that resulted in a finding of a probability of over 99 percent percent that M.B. is the father of the child.

About a year later, the results of the investigator’s test motivated the mother to file a new paternity case against M.B., this time in New Jersey, where the mother had relocated. The case was transferred to Pennsylvania as New Jersey had no jurisdiction over M.B., who was a resident of Pennsylvania. A few months later, the parties again entered into a stipulation dismissing the mother’s case.

Undeterred, the mother almost immediately filed a third case, this time in Montgomery County, to which M.B. filed preliminary objections, a motion to dismiss and a motion to stay the testing, primarily on the basis of res judicata. While M.B. successfully had the Starbucks test excluded as evidence, per a motion in limine, the case, for some reason, was not scheduled for a hearing until about five years later. After that hearing the trial court ordered M.B. to submit to genetic testing once again. The father appealed, primarily on the basis of res judicata. In an unpublished opinion, the Superior Court ruled that the stipulation entered in the New York matter was in violation of New York law and, therefore, not controlling.

Finally, after another year’s time, M.B. submitted to a buccal swab genetic test requested by the mother’s petition requesting blood and hair testing, which again excluded M.B. as the father of the child. Upon receiving the result of this test, M.B. requested the dismissal of the case. The mother countered by requesting M.B. to submit to more rigorous testing on the basis that M.B.’s DNA samples had irregularities, and M.B.’s genetic profiles in the various tests all differed from one another which, she averred, means they did not come from the same person. The parties subsequently filed various motions seeking sanctions and striking filings. A trial court hearing on these issues was finally scheduled for December 2017.

At the hearing, the mother called two officials from the Montgomery County Domestic Relations Office who testified that, despite many years of experience and their knowledge of  hundreds of cases, neither have had a case where the DNA sample they collected was insufficient for testing. In opposition to these witnesses, M.B. called a DNA lab director who testified that there was no evidence of tampering, no issues with the chain-of-custody of the DNA sample, and no issues with testing protocols. While the lab director did note that the DNA that was recently tested did degrade, she could not come to a definite conclusion as to why.

After some of the witnesses testified at the hearing (as described above), the trial court scheduled at least two more days of testimony. Without explanation or apparent reason, the trial court suddenly entered an order concluding that M.B. is the father and directed that an appropriate support order be awarded. M.B. immediately appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

On appeal, M.B. argued that the mother’s case should be dismissed on the basis that the Montgomery County test excluded him as father. M.B. specifically argued that a paternity hearing could only be scheduled if the results of a genetic test did not indicate that the putative father was not excluded from being the father. Consequently, per M.B.’s argument, in the instant matter, as the Montgomery County test excluded him as the father, the aforesaid rule required the mother’s case to be dismissed. The Superior Court rejected this argument and decided that the rule does not limit the scheduling of a hearing only when a test does not indicate an exclusion. The court also pointed out that the rule does not provide that a genetic test—by itself—is sufficient to establish paternity but, instead, indicates that a hearing on the reliability of genetic testing is permissible. The Superior Court also found that Rule 1910.15(d)(4) sets forth “a clear course of conduct addressing every possible result of the genetic testing” and M.B.’s request for dismissal was not relief afforded to him by the rule.

M.B. further argued that the Uniform Act on Blood Tests to Determine Paternity (23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 5104) eliminates any discretion on the part of the trial court to rule in this matter. Superior Court ruled that the aforesaid statute does not apply as no blood test ever took place in this matter, rejecting M.B.’s argument that it applies to all manner of genetic testing, not just blood testing.

M.B. then argued that 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 4343 also requires the dismissal of an action for paternity when a man is excluded from paternity after genetic testing. The court rejected this argument as well, pointing out that the statute cited by M.B. actually directly opposes his argument. The Superior Court noted that the statute “does not provide that genetic tests are conclusive of the issue of paternity,” but such a determination may only be made by “a court in a civil action.” Additionally, the statute also allows for additional testing if a party contests the initial test.

M.B. proffered a cursory argument that additional testing would violate his Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. However, as he did not raise this argument in a timely manner, the Superior Court did not consider it. Instead, it indicated that additional testing may be permitted if the first test can be demonstrated to be unreliable by the preponderance of the evidence.

M.B. finally argued that the trial court abused its discretion by basing its ruling on excluded evidence (the Starbucks cup) and the Montgomery County test (which he argued had no facts to suggest it was unreliable). The Superior Court was sympathetic to this particular argument, however it directed its focus to the fact that the trial court never completed the record due to inexplicably entering an order before finishing the hearing. As a result, the court could not sufficiently review the facts and evidence in the case as it was left incomplete. Indeed, the Superior Court ruled that 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 4343 affords the mother the right to an additional genetic test at her own expense as a matter of right.

After all of the twists and turns in this case, the Superior Court ruled that the trial court committed an abuse of discretion when it ruled that M.B. is the father as the hearing was not complete. The Superior Court ultimately ruled that an additional test is to be administered if no stipulation between the parties is reached. If the new test indicates M.B. is the father, then a hearing may be scheduled to determine the reliability of the test. If M.B. is excluded as the father, then the parties may proceed to a hearing on the issue of paternity. If any additional testing is requested, then evidence of any prior tests’ unreliability must be presented, and Fourth Amendment implications can be considered. As a result, the trial court’s order was vacated and the matter was remanded for further proceedings and testing.

May this case be a warning to those who think that genetic testing to determine paternity speaks conclusively as to who a child’s father is or is not. While modern technology has made significant contributions in this area, there still remains sufficient doubt to warrant other forms of evidence and inquiry before a court.

This article was originally published in The Legal Intelligencer on March 19, 2019 and can be found here.

Ministerial Exception Defense Rejected In Suit To Apply Labor Code To Preschool Teachers

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Su v. Stephen S. Wise Temple, (CA App., March 8, 2019), a California state appellate court held that teachers in a Reform Jewish Temple’s preschool are not covered by the ministerial exception rule.  In the case, California’s Labor Commissioner sued on behalf of 40 teachers alleging that the school violated the state’s Labor Code by failing to provide rest breaks, uninterrupted meal breaks, and overtime pay.In rejecting the Temple’s ministerial exception defense, the majority said in part:

Although the Temple’s preschool curriculum has both secular and religious content, its teachers are not required to have any formal Jewish education, to be knowledgeable about Jewish belief and practice, or to adhere to the Temple’s theology.  Further, the Temple does not refer to its teachers as “ministers” or the equivalent, nor do the teachers refer to themselves as such. Accordingly, we conclude the teachers are not “ministers” for purposes of the ministerial exception.

Presiding Judge Edmon filed a concurring opinion contending that the court need not reach the question of whether the teachers held “ministerial” positions, saying in part:

I would conclude that the Temple has not demonstrated that the ministerial exception has any application to the present dispute, which does not touch on the Temple’s freedom to choose its ministers or to practice its beliefs….

[T]he constitutional imperative against encroaching on a church’s selection of its ministers does not, as a logical matter, suggest that churches must be exempted from all laws that would regulate the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers. Given the number and variety of federal and state employment laws, it stands to reason that some laws will impose a greater burden on religious interests than will others. Accordingly, courts can, without doctrinal inconsistency, exempt churches from the application of some employment laws without exempting churches from all such laws.

You can learn more about this issue here.

City Settles Firefighter’s Religious Discrimination Suit

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

The city of Utica, New York has settled a religious accommodation lawsuit that was filed against it by a firefighter who refuses to cut his hair after taking a Nazirite vow.  Under the settlement announced Friday, firefighter John Brooks has been granted a religious accommodation from the fire department’s grooming policy. A press release from First Liberty announced the settlement. First Liberty’s website has more on the case.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Christian School May Use Oregon’s Religious Exemption To Reject Jewish Faculty Applicant

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In King v. Warner Pacific College, (OR App, Feb. 21, 2019), an Oregon state appellate court held that a Christian college’s refusal to hire a Jewish applicant for a position as adjunct professor of psychology falls within the religious preference exemption to Oregon’s non-discrimination law.  ORS 659A.006(4)provides:

It is not an unlawful employment practice for a bona fide … religious institution, including … a school… to prefer an employee, or an applicant for employment, of one religious sect or persuasion over another if:  (a) The religious sect or persuasion to which the employee or applicant belongs is the same as that of the … institution; … [and]  (c) The employment involved is closely connected with or related to the primary purposes of the … institution….

The court held that the exemption allows the school to reject a non-Christian applicant and await a later hiring cycle to fill the position, or to assign the work to an existing Christian employee.  A majority of the judges also held that this particular faculty position met the requirement of being closely connected to the school’s religious purpose.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidate Says Calls For Recusal Promise Are Attacks On His Religious Beliefs

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on the controversy surrounding 2005- 2006 law school blog posts of a state appeals court judge Brian Hagedorn who is a candidate for the state Supreme Court in the upcoming April 2 election in Wisconsin.  As reported in an earlier Journal-Sentinel article, the posts sharply criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning anti-sodomy laws. saying they could lead to the legalization of bestiality. Hagedorn also attacked Planned Parenthood as an organization that was more devoted “to killing babies than to helping women.” Critics have called for Hagedorn to promise to recuse himself in cases involving same-sex relationships and Planned Parenthood. In a radio interview, Hagedorn, an evangelical Christian, says that the criticism of his posts and calls for recusal are attacks on his religious beliefs.

You can learn more about this issue here.

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